Mythbusting: Emergency Contraception and Unplanned Pregnancy

Emergency Contraception

Once called the ‘morning after pill’, emergency contraception is surrounded by myths and misinformation. Ultimately using emergency contraception is a safe and effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancy. You could use emergency contraception if you:

  • had sex without using contraception
  • forgot to take your usual contraceptive pills
  • had sex without a condom/the condom broke


Myth: There’s just one pill right?

Fact: There are 3 kinds of emergency contraception available in Australia.

  • A single dose levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pill (LNG-ECP) taken within 3 days after unprotected sex.
  • A single dose ulipristal acetate emergency contraceptive pill (UPA-ECP) taken up to five days after unprotected sex.
  • Insertion of a copper intra-uterine device (IUD) within 5 days of unprotected sex, which also provides very effective long-term contraception.

The ECP is available over the counter at pharmacies. You can also get it at SHINE SA clinics, Adelaide Sexual Health Centre, Pregnancy Advisory Centre and many public hospital emergency departments. Some pharmacists may not supply the LNG-ECP if you had unprotected sex over 72 hours ago as this is against the recommendations in the product information.


Myth: You need to take the emergency contraceptive pill the day after unprotected sex.

Fact: The sooner you take the emergency contraceptive pill, the more effective it will be. It is most effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but don’t think it’s too late if you’ve past this time frame. See below:

  • The LNG-ECP can be used up to three days after unprotected sex. It is estimated to prevent approximately 85% of pregnancies if taken within 3 days of unprotected sex, but still offers some effectiveness up to 96 hours, if there is no alternative emergency contraception available.
  • The UPA-ECP is more effective than LNG-ECP and can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex.
  • The copper IUD is the most effective form of emergency contraception. It is more than 99% effective if used within 5 days of unprotected sexual intercourse. The procedure to have a copper IUD can be difficult to access and may be more expensive than using the ECP. Contact SHINE SA or see your doctor for more information.


Myth: Emergency contraceptive pills cause an abortion.

Fact: Emergency contraceptive pills do NOT cause an abortion. If you accidentally take them when you are already pregnant they do not cause harm. The copper IUD may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting.

To learn more about emergency contraception you can read SHINE SA’s Fact Sheet.


Unplanned Pregnancy and Abortions

Unplanned pregnancy is very common! There are many misconceptions around unplanned pregnancy and abortion that can cause distress and prevent people from understanding their full options. Stereotypes around the people who have abortions can also create stigma and shame which can prevent people from accessing services and keeping their pregnancy a secret. Unplanned pregnancy happens and everyone has the right to make their own decision.


Myth: Abortions can have health risks.

Fact: Abortions are very safe when performed by qualified practitioners. In South Australia there are two methods available, medication and surgical. Both methods are safe and effective. Medication abortion involves taking medication to cause a miscarriage. This method needs a follow-up appointment to ensure the procedure is complete. A Surgical abortion is performed under anaesthetic. It does not need an overnight stay. There may be some cramping and bleeding after both types


Myth: Abortion is always a difficult decision.

Fact: If you have an abortion you will have your own unique experience. Unplanned pregnancy can cause emotional distress, however research shows that for most people abortion causes no long lasting psychological consequences. It may be comforting to confide in a friend, family member or partner about the decision, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.


Myth: Abortion has a long recovery.

Fact: Most people recover quickly after an abortion. A  follow-up appointment after the abortion is recommended to ensure you are feeling well and to discuss any concerns. This service is available at your doctor, SHINE SA, Pregnancy Advisory Centre or the hospital. Ongoing contraception may be organised at the time of the abortion or at the follow-up appointment. It is important to know that you can get pregnant again if you have unprotected sex as early as 5 days after an abortion, so you should use condoms or avoid sex until you have effective contraception.


Abortions performed before 14 weeks of pregnancy are available at the Pregnancy Advisory Centre and most public hospitals, including some country hospitals. A doctor’s referral is not needed for the Pregnancy Advisory Centre.

For more information on unplanned pregnancy you can read SHINE SA’s Fact Sheet.

You can also speak to the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, call 8243 3999 or visit


Where do I find out more?

If you have any questions or concerns about your sexual health including contraception and unplanned pregnancy you can visit a SHINE SA clinic, call 1300 794 584.

You can also speak to a sexual health nurse for FREE on the SHINE SA Sexual Healthline, call 8300 5300 (Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 12:30pm).


This piece was originally published in Verse Magazine.