Where to Get the Morning-After Pill

The morning-after pill refers to several emergency contraceptives sold in stores to anyone of any age.

It can be an effective way to help prevent unintended pregnancy if you've had unprotected sex, experienced contraceptive failure (like a condom accidentally slipping off or breaking), or if you've made a mistake with your birth control pills.

The sooner you take the pill, the more effective it is. So knowing where you can get the morning-after pill is important.

This article explains what your options are if you want to use emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill. Learn how the pill works and where you can buy it.

Available morning after pills
Dawn Stacey

Know Your Options

Before you rush to the store, understand what it is you want to buy. There are several morning-after pill options available. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given most of them its stamp of approval to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex (or a failed contraceptive):

  • Plan B One-Step is a branded product whose active ingredient is 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel, which prevents ovulation.

You may prefer several generic alternatives, which are usually cheaper than Plan B and include:

The newest option on the block works differently:

  • Ella is a form of emergency contraception that depends on the hormone ulipristal acetate to stop ovulation. Unlike Plan B One-Step and its generic counterparts, Ella can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.

Despite some differences, emergency contraception works best when it's taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The ideal time is within 24 hours.

Where to Get Most Morning-After Pills

Until 2013, there were point-of-sale and age restrictions on the morning-after pill. Now that the restrictions have been lifted, you should be able to buy Plan B One-Step and its generic alternatives at your local drugstore.

Store owners have some discretion as to where they can shelve these drugs. Typically, they're in the family planning aisle, near over-the-counter (OTC) contraceptives (condoms, Today Sponge, VCF, etc.), home pregnancy tests, and personal lubricants.

To deter people from stealing the pills, some stores keep their supply behind the pharmacy or checkout counter. Other stores may place each box of pills in a large, plastic container that a cashier opens with a key only after the product has been paid for.

Since some desperate shoplifters have been known to walk off with the bulky container, some stores reserve a spot for morning-after pills on their shelves, but instead of displaying the actual box, they place a picture of the product there instead.

The picture includes directions as to where you can find the actual product in the store (such as behind the pharmacy counter). Besides picking up the emergency contraceptives at many grocery and drug stores, you can also find them online.

Where to Get Ella

Ella is available only by prescription, which you can get from your doctor, nurse, or family planning clinic.

Depending on the state you live in, your pharmacist may be able to write you a prescription for Ella (without seeing a doctor). Call your pharmacy first, and ask about their procedures and if they have Ella in stock.

Even if the morning-after pill is located behind the pharmacy counter, remember that you don't need to show a form of identification to buy it. You need only to ask for it.

Planning Ahead

It's a good idea to buy emergency contraception ahead of time, before you need it—even before you think you may need it. Since it's most effective the sooner you use it, having it readily accessible can save you precious time if you find yourself needing it.

Remember that store inventories ebb and flow. In other words, just because you've seen an OTC morning-after pill at your favorite local store once does not mean the store will have it when you happen to need it. The store could be out of stock.

Plus, if your favorite store keeps its pill inventory in the pharmacy, it's possible the pharmacy could be closed if you happen to make a late-night visit (even though the main store could be open).

Since time is of the essence with emergency contraception, try to give yourself every advantage to put time on your side.

Differing Side Effects

Besides helping you swallow the pill, water can relieve some of the side effects you may experience from the morning-after pill. They include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Breast pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea

The side effects of emergency contraception are usually mild and fade quickly. Some women experience no side effects at all. It's more likely that your next period may come sooner or later than usual, and you may have some spotting (or light bleeding) beforehand.

And no: The pill will not affect your ability to get pregnant in the future. 

Summary

Plan B One-Step, as well as its four generic equivalents, contains levonorgestrel and can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. The active ingredient in Ella is ulipristal acetate, and it can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.

All the products work by preventing ovulation. You can buy Plan B and the generics in many drug stores over-the-counter; Ella is sold only by prescription. Taking the morning-after pill may trigger some side effects, but they're usually mild and don't last long.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does the morning after pill cost?

    The morning after pill can cost as little as $11 or as much as $50 or more depending on the brand available at your pharmacy. 

    Plan B One-Step costs between $40 and $50, while generic morning-after pills (Take Action, My Way, Option 2, Preventeza, My Choice, Aftera, and Contra) can range from $11 to $45. Another generic brand, AfterPill, is sold online for $20 plus $5 shipping.

    Another option, ella, is available online and includes a fast medical consultation and next-day delivery, which costs $90. You can also get ella at the pharmacy for around $50.

  • Can you get the morning after pill for free?

    Maybe. Some insurances cover the morning-after pill without a copay. In addition, you may be able to get free or low-cost emergency contraception from a family-planning clinic, such as Planned Parenthood.

  • What are the side effects of the morning after pill?

    Emergency contraception usually has mild or no side effects. Side effects can include headache, breast tenderness, mild cramping, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthguidance.org. How to take the morning after pill.

  2. Office on Women's Health. Emergency contraception.

  3. Planned Parenthood. Plan B morning-after pill.

  4. Planned Parenthood. What is the ella morning after pill?