After learning that a Connecticut law would bar Plan B vending machines on campus, Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20 announced on Jan. 9 that Yale Health would not only give students 24/7 access to Plan B for free, but would also allow students to acquire the pill without consultation from Yale Health staff.

Yale doctors interviewed by the News lauded the increased accessibility of emergency contraception on campus but emphasized contraception education. Plan B, the doctors said, is not a foolproof solution when it comes to preventing pregnancy. While relatively safe, the pill is only about 90 percent effective at preventing pregnancies when used optimally, and an array of factors such as timing, body mass and other medications can decrease the pill’s efficacy.

“It’s pretty effective if taken as soon as possible, but it should be clear that it is not as effective as a reliable form of contraception,” said Pinar Kodaman ’94 MED ’01, a School of Medicine professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences. “It should really only be used as an emergency contraception or a backup contraception.”

The doctors’ advice to women avoiding pregnancy rang clear: If you are put in a situation that warrants Plan B, consider using it.

According to School of Medicine OB-GYN professor Lubna Pal, if accidental exposure to semen occurs, a woman should take Plan B as soon as possible, preferably within 72 hours but up to five days after unprotected or underprotected sex. If ingested just prior to ovulation, hormones within the pill will prevent the release of an egg and no pregnancy will result. The pill does not affect embryos.

But Plan B is just that: a backup plan. It should not replace reliable birth control methods such as hormone pills or injections, which are up to 99 percent effective, according to Pal. Plan B is also not a replacement for condoms, which prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Kodaman said users also need to be wary of timing and their own health when considering if Plan B is an effective emergency contraception option for them. According to Pal, women are most susceptible to pregnancy if they are exposed to sperm two to three days before ovulation, and pregnancy risk will decline around 48 hours after the egg is released.

Plan B’s efficacy plummets after ovulation occurs, and the pill will not work as effectively if its user is obese or on certain medications such as anticonvulsants.

Pal suggested that women consult with a healthcare provider about placement of an intrauterine device, also known as an IUD, following unprotected sex. If placed within five days after exposure, these devices are more than 99 percent effective at impeding implantation of the embryo into the uterine lining, preventing pregnancy as a result. Kodaman said that Yale Health covers IUD placement for those on its health insurance plan, and she noted that IUDs also function as a long-term birth control solution to prevent future need for emergency contraception.

A woman may experience an irregular menstrual cycle after taking Plan B, but both physicians said that long-term consequences — regardless of how frequently the drug is used — are slim to none.

Plan B will be available 24/7 from Yale Health either at their pharmacy or at the acute care center after pharmacy hours.

Marisa Peryer | marisa.peryer@yale.edu