Starting next week -- if the White House has its way--federally funded clinics will be required to notify parents within 10 days after their daughters under age 18 get prescription contraceptives.
Dubbed the "squeal law" by opponents, the rule is designed to "protect the health and safety of minor adolescents who are given prescription birth-control drugs or devices paid for with taxpayer dollars," said Richard S. Schweiker, then secretary of Health and Human Services, when the regulation was issued last month.
At least four civil-liberties and family-planning groups have filed suit against the rule, scheduled to take effect Feb. 25. Parental notification, they predict, will scare off as many as a quarter of the more than 682,000 teen-agers who use federally funded birth-control clinics each year. The result, they contend, will be an increase in the number of teen-age pregnancies and abortions, which totaled 474,000 last year.
Proponents claim that the rule will not only help monitor the health of adolescents on birth control, but also discourage promiscuity and increase communication between parents and teens.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery is scheduled to hear arguments this morning in a class-action suit to block the rule, filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. Unlike other suits filed against the rule in specific states, says Planned Parenthood's attorney Nancy L. Buc, the outcome of this case would have nationwide impact.
"A lot of kids think it's already in effect," says Debra Haffner, D.C. Planned Parenthood's director of counseling and community affairs. "They are scared and staying away or calling to double-check." Also, most don't understand, she says, that the rule will not affect clinics in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, which do not receive federal Title X (family-planning services) funds.