Young people don’t know about their emergency contraception options, but that can change

visual chart of emergency contraception options

March 22, 2023

As a “last chance” method, emergency contraception (EC) has taken on greater urgency since the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion care. Young people who don’t want to be pregnant need accurate information about their options, but awareness and availability have lagged around the country.

Improving their knowledge may be easy to do, according to new research from Beyond the Pill.

Researchers worked with a diverse group of more than 1,000 community college students. At the start, they had a vague awareness of EC and had heard of pills. They knew more about over-the-counter Plan B bills, but more than half had never heard about ella, a prescription option that’s slightly more effective. Virtually no one knew that they could have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted as a form of emergency contraception.

Researchers held a low-cost, 10-minute education session using youth-friendly visuals explaining the different EC options. The young people in the study showed significant increases in knowledge of different EC methods, and of critically important facts like how time sensitive it is, effectiveness, and need for a prescription.

With young people facing increasing constraints on their reproductive health, they need to be aware of emergency contraceptive methods, where to get them, and how to use them. However, provider counseling on EC for adolescents and young adults has remained surprisingly low over time, at around 5%. We also need better insurance coverage for prescription options, training for providers on providing EC ahead of time so people have it when they need it, and availability in emergency departments. Education for young people outside of clinic settings is an essential piece. Young people deserve the knowledge to make the best decisions for themselves about their reproductive health.