On Friday, June 24, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively taking away the constitutional right to legal abortion access. Abortion can now be banned in more than half the United States and officially illegal in Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, and South Dakota. According to Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research and advocacy group, a total of 26 states are “certain or likely” to completely ban abortion in the upcoming weeks and months.
The decision has caused a reproductive rights—and human rights—crisis, with many taking to the streets in protest and everyone from politicians to celebrities condemning the loss of safe and legal abortion access for people who can become pregnant.
Emergency contraception and birth control are still available and legal—though anti-abortion legislators have indicated contraceptives may be their next target. In the wake of Roe v. Wade‘s overturn, there has been a surge in demand for emergency contraceptives at retailers. According to reports, stores like Walgreens, CVS, and RiteAid are currently selling out or limiting purchases of Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken to prevent pregnancy. Plan B is not to be confused with the abortion pill—i.e., mifepristone and misoprostol—which are medications that terminate early pregnancy.
As Plan B becomes a lifeline during this critical time for reproductive rights, Glamour spoke to Dr. Sharon Malone, MD, OB-GYN and Chief Medical Officer of Alloy, to explain everything you need to know about the emergency contraceptive.
Ahead, Malone answers all your questions about Plan B.
What is Plan B?
Plan B is a type of “morning-after” pill that’s not only easily accessible, but also extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. “Plan B is an emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to 72 hours after an episode of an unprotected or failed contraceptive,” says Malone. “Plan B is available over the counter and contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestin found in many birth control pills and in the hormonal IUD Mirena.”
How does Plan B work?
Similar to birth control, Plan B delays or prevents ovulation so pregnancy is unable to occur. It can also prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg or stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
Who can take Plan B?
For women who weigh more than 165 pounds, Malone recommends using Ella (ulipristal), another type morning-after pill, which is more effective as an oral medication, though it does require a prescription. “Plan B is less effective in people who are overweight [according to the World Health Organization, a body mass index over 25 is considered overweight],” says Malone. “There are two morning-after pills: Plan B or its generic equivalent (levonorgestrel), which is available over the counter and Ella (ulispristal), which is available as a prescription. Ulipristal is slightly more effective in preventing pregnancy, particularly in women with higher weights.”
Are there risks?
There are no major risks involved with taking the pill. “There is no estrogen in Plan B,” says Malone. “Risks are minimal and the biggest issue is a failure to prevent pregnancy. If the next period is delayed by more than a week, pregnancy should be ruled out.”
What is the efficacy of Plan B in preventing pregnancy?
There are two factors: How soon you take the pill after having unprotected sex and your body mass index. “Although the effectiveness of Plan B is higher when taken closer to the episode of unprotected or unplanned sex, it can be taken up to three to five days after,” says Malone. “The effectiveness is anywhere from 75% to 90% in preventing pregnancy, but it’s decreased in people with higher BMIs. Although there has been a recommendation to double the dose of Plan B in people with higher BMIs, recent studies suggest that this is not effective in reducing ovulation.”