Health

How to Get the Morning-After Pill for Free

You might want some at home in case effective birth control gets harder to access.
Photo: Courtesy of Foundation HealthCare

Following Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement on Wednesday, many people were rightfully concerned about the future of the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade. Average folks on Twitter encouraged women to get IUDs if they’d been on the fence about them and to stock up on emergency contraception like Plan B. This may seem like doomsday prepping to some, but it’s not unwise: A more conservative Supreme Court could actually make birth control harder to access.

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Anti-choice lawmakers and activists particularly despise emergency contraception, whether it’s in the form of copper IUDs or the morning-after pill, because they falsely believe that these drugs and devices cause abortions. They do not: Emergency contraception primarily prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg that could be fertilized, and in the case of the copper IUD, it is capable of preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. Still, in the medical and legal sense, a fertilized egg does not equal being pregnant if it hasn’t implanted yet.

But coverage of every type of birth control is at risk. This, combined with likelihood of more restrictions on abortion, should scare everyone who is capable of getting pregnant and capable of getting someone else pregnant. As Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, tells me: “The balance of the court is going to change and not in a way that favors women’s rights, so we’re certainly concerned about birth control and abortion and a host of other rights.”

One small action you can take now is to get some emergency contraception to have on hand for the future so you can take it right away if you need it after birth control failure (i.e. a broken condom or missed pills) or unprotected sex. If you have health insurance, you can get it for free.


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Like all birth control, emergency contraception (EC) is covered in full under the Affordable Care Act when you have a prescription—that means no copays, even if you haven’t met your annual deductible. Brands like Plan B and its generics are available over the counter so you don’t need a prescription to get it, but if you bring in an Rx, the pharmacy will give it to you for free.

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Since you’re supposed to take EC as soon as possible and not every pharmacy has it sitting around, it’s smart to have some at home, says Courtney Benedict, associate director of Medical Standards Implementation at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. If you’re getting some for your medicine cabinet, ask the pharmacist for the latest expiration date they have (just like people do with Epi-Pens for food allergies).

An important note: “Some pharmacies may allow staff to refuse to fill prescriptions based on their personal beliefs—another reason to have EC on hand,” Benedict says. A pharmacist who refuses a customer based on personal beliefs is supposed to refer the customer to another employee so they’re not left out in the cold. “When you’re worried that you might become pregnant because your condom broke or you had unprotected sex, the last thing you need is delays at the pharmacy counter,” Benedict says.

Some pharmacists might simply be confused as to why you’re handing them an Rx for something that’s available over the counter. You can explain that it’s covered by insurance and the prescription is so you can get it for free.

Just so you’re aware, your doctor may not prescribe you the brand Plan B. There are lots of different kinds of emergency contraceptives available and what you should use depends on when you had sex, your height and weight (BMI), whether you’re breastfeeding, and, frankly, which method is easiest for you to get.

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Benedict explains:

It’s best to use the most effective method of emergency contraception that you have access to. The copper IUD is the most effective form of emergency contraception, plus you can continue using it for birth control for up to 12 years. It’s not a medication, though, and needs to be inserted in a health center by a trained provider within 5 days after sex. Ella, a pill, is more effective for people with higher BMIs than other morning-after pills, but if your BMI is very high, you may be better off with the copper IUD. Plan B, another kind of pill, is less effective than the IUD and Ella, especially if you take it more than 3 days (72 hours) after sex or if you have a higher BMI. The upside is that Plan B and other types of levonorgestrel morning-after pills are the easiest to get. You don’t need a prescription, and anybody can buy them over the counter at drugstores, no matter your age or gender.

Yes, that last sentence means men can buy it, too, it just won’t be free with insurance.

If you don’t have health insurance or if you’re just curious, Planned Parenthood has an online quiz that can help you figure out the best emergency contraception for you. And Benedict underscored that her organization cares for people whether they have insurance or not. “Planned Parenthood’s doors are open to everyone,” she says.

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