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New York considers lifting the tampon tax

Discussions around menstruation are becoming less taboo as legislatures attempt to make feminine hygiene products more accessible and not a 'luxury item.'

Rick Bowmer/AP
Utah Rep. Susan Duckworth (D) introduced a bill to lift a 'luxury tax' off of tampons.

The question has recently come up for debate: Are tampons necessary goods or luxury items? Legislators are beginning to talk more openly about menstruation, as they attempt to make feminine hygiene products like sanitary pads and tampons more accessible to women. With that comes making them more affordable – and lifting taxes on products women that most women view as a necessity.

New York is poised to join five other states – New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Minnesota – that have already eliminated the sales tax on tampons and pads. New York's bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature and awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature, would put tampons in the same category as bandages, contraceptives, and swabs, which currently, unlike feminine hygiene products, are exempt from the 4 percent state sales tax.

Within New York City, the bill would also make feminine hygiene products free in schools, homeless shelters, and prisons. "Everyone's talking about this inequity," says Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who introduced the bill. At one high school in Queens, a machine that has been dispensing tampons and pads since September has made all the difference for the school's female students. Previously, they would have had to go all the way to the school nurse to get them. "You go to the nurse's office when you're sick," said City Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. "These girls aren't sick. Getting your period just says that you're healthy."

Making it easier for girls to obtain pads and tampons has improved class attendance, said Ana Zambrano-Burakov, principal of the High School for Arts and Business in Queens. "I have heard sometimes girls stay home because they don't have the money to buy what they need, and that's no longer the case."

Ms. Rosenthal said that when she introduced the bill last year, it led to an awkward discussion. "I used the words 'period' and 'blood' and they were shifting in their chairs," she told NPR. "Some couldn't look at me because I was saying these words." But lately, a movement is underway to makes periods less of a taboo topic.

When Utah Rep. Susan Duckworth (D) introduced a bill that would have lifted Utah's sales tax on tampons as luxury goods, she knew it would be a tough discussion. "I'm going into an all-male committee, and I just don't believe they are going to have much sympathy," she told the Associated Press. "The chances of getting it out of committee are probably not very good, but I'm not going to give up on it." Duckworth called personal hygiene a "right" to which women are entitled.

Even President Obama agrees. "I have to tell ya, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed," he said. "And I think it's pretty sensible for women ... to work to get those taxes removed."

Opponents to reclassifying tampons, however, hold on to the fact that women need these "luxury goods," so taxing them brings in guaranteed tax money. For California assemblywoman Christina Garcia, who earlier this year sponsored a California bill to end the tampon tax, such reasoning is simple injustice. "Basically we are being taxed for being women," Ms. Garcia said in announcing the bill. "This is a step in the right direction to fix this gender injustice. Women have no choice but to buy these products, so the economic effect is only felt by woman [sic] and women of color are particularly hard hit by this tax."

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