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Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is available to prevent pregnancy if you have had sexual intercourse without contraception or if your regular method of contraception has failed. In Australia, there are three emergency contraception options available:

  • two types of emergency oral contraception pill available over the counter (without prescription) from your local pharmacy, and
  • a copper intrauterine device (IUD) available from your GP or local sexual health and family planning clinic.

Whichever treatment option you choose:

  • You must act as soon as possible (within 3-5 days of having unprotected sex).
  • It can not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Emergency contraception will prevent pregnancy before it begins. It is not the same as an abortion or pregnancy termination

Emergency contraception options

Emergency oral contraceptive pill

In Australia, you can access two 'morning-after' pills, levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate. Both are available without a prescription from your local pharmacy and are most effective taken as soon as possible (levonorgestrel within three days or ulipristal within five days of unprotected sex).

Both emergency oral contraceptive pills work by interrupting ovulation, either delaying or preventing the release of an egg from the ovaries. These pills are approximately 85% effective and are considered very safe with only minimal short-term side effects, including nausea, breast tenderness, and headache. Your next period may also begin earlier or later than expected. Your pharmacist will advise you further at purchase.

Most women can take the emergency oral contraceptive pill. However, we always recommend you speak to your pharmacist about which one is right for you. Information including:

  • whether you are currently breastfeeding,
  • other medications you are taking, and
  • the time since you had unprotected sex,

will help your pharmacist determine which option is right for you.

Copper intrauterine device (IUD)

Often included in discussions about ongoing contraception, the copper IUD is also available as emergency contraception.

The copper IUD works by interfering with sperm, preventing them from fertilising the egg and, sometimes, preventing the implantation of a fertilised egg.

More than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, a trained doctor or nurse must insert the copper IUD within five days of unprotected sex. The copper IUD can remain in place for many women as ongoing contraception for up to 10 years.

Other things to consider if you had unprotected sex

Sexually transmitted disease

Neither the emergency oral contraceptive pill nor the copper IUD protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If your condom failed or you did not use one, you may benefit from an STD check. Your GP or local sexual health and family planning clinic can arrange this for you.

Ongoing Contraception

If you are reaching for an emergency contraception option, it may also be time to chat about your best longer-term contraceptive options. Your local pharmacist can provide some non-hormonal options. However, you will require a prescription for ongoing hormonal contraception. Again, your GP can advise the best choice for your circumstances.

Emergency contraception is always available from your local capital chemist or you can book a time to discuss your needs here.


Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.