Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Emergency contraception

7 June, 2006

Question:

What is the halacha regarding Plan B? Is it advanced contraception or an “abortion” pill? How does it work – does it prevent implantation in the uterus or prevent fertilization?


Answer:

Post coital or “emergency” contraceptive pills such as Plan B (levonorgestrel) work by disrupting the menstrual cycle. Depending when in the cycle they are taken, they may prevent ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. These mechanisms have different halachic implications: preventing ovulation is the least problematic, preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo is the most problematic. For both medical and halachic reasons, they should never be used as a routine contraceptive method.

However, in cases that truly are an emergency, there is room to permit them, since it is uncertain whether conception has taken place at all. Furthermore, even if conception has occurred, this would be a very early abortion which is easier to permit halachically under extenuating circumstances. Our site’s rabbinic supervisor, Rav Yehuda Henkin, permits the use of emergency contraceptive pills as intended – within a few days of possible conception – without further consultation.

A woman who wishes to consult her own rabbi needs to ask as quickly as possible, since Plan B works only if taken within 72 hours after relations – and is more likely to be effective the sooner it is taken.

In the case of sexual assault, emergency contraception is permitted.


This internet service does not preclude, override or replace the psak of any rabbinical authority. It is the responsibility of the questioner to inform us of any previous consultation or ruling. As even slight variation in circumstances may have Halachic consequences, views expressed concerning one case may not be applied to other, seemingly similar cases. All health and health-related information contained within Nishmat's Women's Health & Halacha Web site is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for consulting with your health care professional. The advice is intended to offer a basis for individuals to discuss their medical condition with their health care provider but not individual advice. Although every effort is made to ensure that the material within Nishmat's Women's Health & Halacha Web site is accurate and timely, it is provided for the convenience of the Web site user but should not be considered official. Advice for actual medical practice should be obtained from a licensed health care professional.

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