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    The history of the morning after pill

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      Reviewed by our clinical team

      Morning after pill

      The morning after pill has been in the news a fair amount in recent months, and with the discussion around access hitting the headlines so frequently, we thought now was the perfect time to put together an infographic on its fascinating history.

      When was the morning after pill invented?

      In the 1920s researchers initially demonstrated that oestrogen ovarian extracts interfere with pregnancy in mammals. The findings were first applied by veterinarians, who administer the oestrogen to dogs and horses that had mated against the wishes of their owners. To find out just how far this little pill has come over the past century, read on. 

      History of the morning after pill

      Although the contraceptive pill has been available for over 50 years in the UK, women had to wait until 1984 until the first licensed morning after pill was launched in Britain. Early trials in the 1970s used high doses of oestrogen, taken over five days, to prevent unwanted pregnancies before researchers discovered that a combination of oestrogen and progestogen was safer. By 2000, they’d decided that a progestogen-only emergency contraceptive pill was the best option and Levonorgestrel (sometimes braned Levonelle) became available. By 2001, it was available to buy from UK pharmacies.

      Need emergency contraception?

      Go to our emergency contraception clinic

      Morning after pills designed to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex have been available from pharmacies for some years now, with a five-day emergency pill called ellaOne only available from GPs and family planning clinics. However in 2015, the European Union changed the status of this 5-day emergency pill so that now, it can be bought from chemists across the UK without a prescription – just like the other emergency contraceptive pills.


      In 2015, emergency contraceptives were licensed for under 16s in the UK which caused controversy among some campaigners who wanted to deny children access to it.

      Whilst some sexual health charities welcomed the change in law, arguing that all women and girls should have access to the pill without fear of stigmatization, other organisations were resistant.

      Emergency contraception in 2017 and beyond

      Today, three types of emergency contraception are available in the UK: the copper coil (IUD), ellaOne, and the traditional morning after pill, which is usually known as Levonelle, or the generic version is Levonorgestrel.

      While Levonorgestrel can be taken up to three days after unprotected sex, ellaOne is effective for up to five days following sex without a condom.

      The most effective form of emergency contraception is the copper coil; however, this needs to be fitted by a trained health professional.

      Currently, it’s not clear what lies ahead for emergency contraception. Over the next few years, further research will likely be carried out on existing forms; it’s not yet known, for instance, whether ellaOne is safe for breastfeeding women to take. With more careful research and study, it’s hoped that countries around the world continue to make it easier for women to access and take emergency contraception safely.

      To learn more, visit our online clinic, where you can get an emergency contraception consultation from one of our clinicians.



      LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor

      This service operates in the United Kingdom only

      LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor

      This service operates in the United Kingdom only

      Visit IE Online Doctor Continue with UK service