New York Senate Votes to Stop Taxing Women for Having Periods

The New York Senate Wednesday unanimously passed a bill to end the sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins, and other feminist hygiene products, colloquially referred to as the “tampon tax.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called repealing the tax “matter of social and economic justice,” is expected to sign the bill.

"Repealing this regressive and unfair tax on women is a matter of social and economic justice," Cuomo said in a statement. "I look forward to signing it into law.”

According to New York Assemblywomen Linda Rosenthal, the bill will exempt tampons, sanitary napkins and other related items from state sales tax, and is written broadly enough to encompass new products that may be introduced in the market.

"Women have been paying this sexist tax on their bodies for far too long, and I am so pleased, that after months of hard work and negotiation, New York state will finally ax the tax on feminine hygiene products," Rosenthal said

The movement to end the tampon tax is a relatively new front in the fight for gender equality. Under current law, other necessity of life products are exempt from sales tax—which is some states means Rogaine and candy can be purchased tax-free while feminine hygiene products cannot. Opponents of the tax argue it places an unfair financial burden on women.

In March, a group of five women filed a lawsuit agains the New York Department of Taxation and Finance over the 4 percent sales tax, arguing it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. Attorney Zoe Salzman, who worked with the plaintiffs, called the sales tax “one of the many laws made by men and for men.”

Only five states—Maryland, Massachuesetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey—have passed laws to eliminate the tampon tax. But the movement continues to gain mainstream traction and vocal support from feminists, including Gloria Steinem, who heavily promoted a petition spearheaded by the women’s fashion magazine Cosmopolitan.

But the tampon fight is not without its detractors. Earlier this year, Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell insisted she supports the tax, writing:

“Maybe it seems unfair that in so many states Twizzlers don’t get taxed while tampons do. But the solution isn’t to dole out yet more tax breaks but to end the ones we have and direct more public funds to people who actually need assistance.”

And Samantha Allen of the Daily Beast called outrage over the tampon tax “overblown,” positing the problem lies within the complexity of the tax code and is “not necessarily a patriarchal privileging of candy over feminine hygiene.”

Still, for those leading the fight, the gender discrepancy cannot be ignored. “If men menstruated once a month, there is no way there would be a sales tax on these products,” Salzman said.

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