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Australian women now have access to another emergency contraceptive pill.

Even though we’re well into the 21st century, emergency contraception isn’t something that’s often openly discussed. In fact, in many ways it’s still surrounded by stigma and plenty of misconceptions.

However, today marks a positive step: women in Australia now have access to one more form of emergency contraception.

It’s a pill called EllaOne, and while it’s ideally taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, it’s effective for up to five days afterwards.

This is two days longer than the levonorgestrel (or “morning after”) pill, which is currently the most common emergency contraceptive in Australia.

“We don’t want to it be known as the ‘five day pill’, because we don’t want people to put things off for that time. It’s best to take it as early as possible,” says Dr Deborah Bateson, Medical Director of Family Planning NSW.

EllaOne is now available in Australia. (Image: EllaOne)

"But it's another alternative, and we want women to know about it and speak to their doctors about it."

Like other emergency contraception, EllaOne works by delaying or preventing ovulation. However, it contains a new compound — a selective progesterone receptor modulator, to be more specific — called ulipristal acetate.

"EllaOne is able to stop ovulation from occurring even when the egg's just about to be released; in other words the luteinising hormone surge has already begun. So it's more effective at preventing ovulation," Dr Bateson explains.

In fact, comparative data has indicated EllaOne is three times more effective that the current levonorgestrel pill when taken within the first 24 hours of unprotected sex.

However, like any form of birth control, it isn't 100 per cent effective and can fail. Dr Bateson advises that if women have any concerns after taking it, like a delayed period, they should take a pregnancy test. (Post continues after gallery.)

Although EllaOne is available over the counter in some countries, including the UK, it won't be in Australia.

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Women here will require a doctor's prescription in order to purchase it; according non-profit pharmaceutical company MS Health, the pill's sponsor in Australia, this is because it's a "new chemical entity."

EllaOne isn't listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and while the price is currently unknown (and it will vary between pharmacies) Dr Bateson says it's likely to be more expensive than the current emergency pill.

"The cost may be an issue for some people," she adds. "But I think it's a very useful option for women who may find it difficult to get to the chemist in a short period of time. So they can then see their doctor, their doctor can prescribe it, and they can access it."

EllaOne is new to Australia, having been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration last year, but it's been available in around 89 other countries since 2009. It's been used by more than five million women in that time.

You won't be able to buy EllaOne over the counter, for the time being at least. (Image: The Pill)

There are few side effects associated with EllaOne, but it can sometimes cause a disturbance to a woman's bleeding pattern. It's also not suitable for everyone — for instance, women who are breastfeeding are recommended not to do so for the week after taking the tablet.

Ultimately, Dr Bateson believes EllaOne offers a "good new option" for emergency contraception, joining the levonorgestrel pill and the copper IUD (which is an effective form of emergency contraception if inserted within five days of unprotected sex).

"Obviously, it's useful for women to think about long-term methods of contraception," she says.

"But we certainly want women to know that [EllaOne] is safe, there's no effect on future fertility, it's not associated with ectopic pregnancy and there are very few side effects."

See your doctor for more information.

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