Menstrual products are taxed as “luxury items” in the state of Michigan, while erectile dysfunction medication Viagra and hair loss ointment Rogaine are exempt — but that could all change soon.
The state is on its way to being the next to eliminate its “tampon tax.”
The national campaign Period Equity helped three Michigan women file a class action lawsuit against the state in the Michigan Court of Claims on Tuseday, arguing that taxing menstrual products is a form of sex-based discrimination.
The plaintiffs Emily Beggs, Clare Pfeiffer, and Wei Ho allege that Michigan residents are paying a 6% sales tax on menstrual products, which amounts to $7 million a year. The lawsuit asks that the court declare the tampon tax in the state unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clauses of the US and Michigan Constitutions. The women are also asking that the state issue refunds to shoppers who paid a tampon tax over the past few years, totaling up to over $25 million.
Menstrual equity advocates are especially concerned about the tampon tax’s economic burden on people who menstruate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Michigan’s unemployment rate reached historic levels in April, at 22.7%.
“The tampon tax has always been an unfair burden, but it’s even more punitive in this economic climate for the state to raise money off purchases people are struggling to afford,” Beggs, a volunteer with the menstrual equity organization I Support the Girls’ Detroit chapter, said in a press release issued to Global Citizen.
I Support the Girls has seen a need for menstrual product donations increase by 50%, according to Beggs.
Bills to remove the tampon tax in Michigan have been introduced annually since 2016, and while bipartisan bills are with the Senate and the House of Representatives, they have not advanced to a vote, the press release said.
“Given the disparate economic impact of COVID on women and low-income families, now is an opportune — indeed, an urgent — time for the 30 states that still have a tampon tax to remove it,” Period Equity Co-Founder Jennifer Weiss-Wolf said in the release.
The federal government only acknowledged period products as a medical necessity for the first time in the March COVID-19 stimulus package. Advocates are hopeful that the crisis is an opportunity to advance conversations around menstruation and help introduce policies that promote menstrual equity across the country.