The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has shot down (or at least winged) the parental-notification rule. Pending a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, family-planning clinics in the D.C. circuit may not be required to notify parents that their children have been seeking birth-control information or devices.
I haven't read the appellate court's opinion, but I'm willing to bet that its decision was based on such considerations as constitutionality and congressional intent. It's virtually certain that the three-judge panel failed to consider the main problem with the so-called squeal rule: the rule threatens to become a classic bisagiatt. And the fact is we already have far too many bisagiatts.
If you took high school Latin a generation ago, you might guess that "bisagiatt" has its roots in "bi," meaning "two," and "sagacis," meaning "wise." You might, therefore, conclude that a bisagiatt is an act of apparent wisdom that has two sets of consequences (even if one of them is unintended).
Which is precisely what it is, though its origins are not Latin. Bisagiatt is, in fact, a word of my own coinage, an acronym for: But It Seemed a Good Idea at The Time.
A bisagiatt is an act that helps specific victims while simultaneously increasing the pool of victims. The squeal rule, for instance, might have been a very good thing for young women who were already getting birth control help from their government-supported clinics. Notifying the parents of these young women might have led to some very useful parent-daughter discussions, which is what its authors intended.
But what of the young women who were only thinking about getting birth control advice? Some of them might have decided to forgo sex. But many more, knowing that their parents would be notified, might simply have decided to forgo the clinic, taking their chances with Saran Wrap and advice from ignorant friends. That's why the rule threatened to become a bisagiatt.
There are others. Welfare used to carry such an awful stigma that those forced to rely on it were often demeaned and humiliated. Then someone came up with the idea that we should stop thinking of welfare in terms of handouts and doles and charity and think of it as a right. While the welfare rights movement may have done a lot for the pride of people already reduced to welfare, it also made the prospect of welfare dependency less stigmatizing to people who otherwise might have done everything they could to avoid being on relief. But it seemed a good idea at the time.
High-school girls who found themselves pregnant used to be summarily kicked out of school, for fear that they would somehow contaminate their "nice" classmates. It was a terrible thing to do, of course. Not only did these young women need education more than ever, but they also needed to recover their shattered self-esteem.
So we started letting them remain in school, or holding special evening classes for them, or inviting them back to complete their high-school work after the baby was born, in some cases setting up in-school nurseries for their children.
And one of the unintended messages to the nonpregnant youngsters was that getting pregnant wasn't such a big deal--which may be one reason why we are producing adolescent parents at record rates.
The point is not that we should withhold assistance, psychological and otherwise, from people who desperately need it. The point is to avoid offering thce in such short- sighted ways that we end up exacerbating the problem we sought to relieve.
We don't need any more bisagiatts