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Mean Girls Leads to Phone Hex

Local Matters


Published August 17, 2005 at 5:59 a.m.

VERMONT--Tina Fey, the "Saturday Night Live" star who penned and acted in last year's Mean Girls, probably didn't intend to cause trouble for Planned Parenthood. But a single phone call in the hit teen flick inspired an avalanche of copycat pranksters that has the reproductive-health services organization concerned -- and annoyed.

Early in the film, Regina George, head of "The Plastics" -- the A-list clique of girls at a fictional Illinois high school -- wants to punish a fellow student for making out with her (Regina's) ex-boyfriend at the mall. So Regina whips out her cellphone, calls the girl's home, and informs the woman who answers that the results of her daughter's pregnancy test are in, and would she please contact Planned Parenthood for an appointment. The objective of Regina's call? To make sure the girl's stricken mother won't let her go out with any boys.

The scene is over quickly, the prank is never repeated, and it's not even the most memorable of many dirty tricks in the movie. But apparently it's the one that's easiest to replicate without getting caught. And it's one that a national organization is documenting.

Sort of. Erin Carmichael, associate director of medical services at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, says the number of calls got so large after the movie came out that "the national office stopped keeping count." The monthly security reports now "just say they keep coming in," Carmichael says. "And I continue to hear from one or two sites within our affiliate -- Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine -- almost every week."

But the real-life prank callers are more risk-averse -- or cowardly -- than Mean Girls' blonde "beeyatch": They generally leave messages on answering machines rather than with an actual person. Carmichael explains, "The gist of these pranks is that someone calls the home of a young woman and says something to the effect of: 'Hi, this is _____ calling from Planned Parenthood. Please call us back to schedule another visit because your ______ test came back positive.'" Sometimes the caller says pregnancy, other times a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia. And sometimes, the caller is a mean boy.

But no one from a Planned Parenthood office would do any such thing, Carmichael emphasizes. "We only call patients at home if they have told us in writing that it is OK to do so. And we only share test results on an answering machine if we've expressly been asked to do so by the patient," she says.

In this age of caller-identification machines, "star 69" and Internet phone data, can't the calls be traced? Apparently cellphones can elude tracking, Carmichael says -- unless you've got the technological capabilities of, say, the FBI.

She acknowledges that even this article could incite more meanies. "It's a little bit of a risk, but this has been going on for so long now, maybe putting the information out there will alert people that it is a prank," Carmichael says. "Maybe it will save some people a little anxiety."