Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker said yesterday that he intends to require federally funded clinics to notify parents whose daughters under 18 seek prescription birth-control products.
Schweiker sent the regulation to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. It would go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The rule is necessary to "protect the health and safety of minor adolescents who are given prescription birth-control drugs or devices paid for with taxpayer dollars," Schweiker said.
It would require that the country's 5,000 federally funded birth-control clinics notify parents within 10 days after a girl under 18 asks for a diaphragm, birth-control pills or an intrauterine device.
The decision to proceed with the controversial parental notification plan came after nearly a year of debate and one of the greatest outpourings of public response in the department's history.
More than 120,000 individuals and organizations commented on the regulation after it was proposed last February.
Marjory Mecklenburg, HHS architect of the notification plan, said that no breakdown of the response was kept but "there was a lot of support."
The final rule, which appears to be strikingly similar to the original proposal, was assailed by several health and family planning groups who charge that it will result in more teen-age pregnancies and abortions. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America immediately filed suit in U.S. District Court here to stop the government's action. "It is an outrage. The overwhelming public sentiment was in opposition to these regulations," said Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton.
The plan is "ill-conceived, misguided, untenable, illegal and unconstitutional," added Scott Swirling of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.
The groups also denounced an unpublicized department decision to reorganize the family planning program, placing it under the direct control of Mecklenburg, who was appointed by President Reagan after leading American Citizens Concerned for Life, an anti-abortion group.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), head of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, saw both actions as part of a "consistent pattern of attack" on the family planning program by the Reagan administration. "One must conclude that this administration is more concerned with its right-wing agenda than with the health of pregnant women."
But conservatives were also concerned that the changes did not go far enough. "They're throwing us bones with no meat on them," said Gary Curran, of the anti-abortion American Life Lobby. He argued that parental consent for birth control was needed and that the reorganization of the program was like "rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic."
HHS said that the notification rule sent to OMB is changed in only two ways from the original proposal. A "parent or guardian" would be defined as one person who lives with the minor or exercises ordinary parental functions. It also clarifies that notification shall be by certified mail or similar means.
Estimates suggest that about 530,000 teens under 18 get such prescriptions each year. The only exception to notification would be if there is concern about physical harm to the girl or if the drugs are used to treat venereal diseases.
The other change in the program, confirmed yesterday by top administration officials, was the decision to name Mecklenburg to the job of deputy assistant secretary for population affairs on a permanent basis.
An order, signed by Schweiker, would also shift the Office of Family Planning from the Bureau of Community Health Services, where it has been run by career health staff, to her office.
HHS spokesman Claire del Real defended the move as important for "more efficient coordination between policy and operational aspects of the program," saying that it met congressional intent under the family planning law. Waxman contended it would "weaken and disrupt the program."