The minute you are born a girl in Indiana, you are predestined to be paying more in taxes.
And this week, the Indiana House — full of Republican low-taxation stalwarts — rejected a chance to change that.
An amendment offered by Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, would have eliminated the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, as well as on adult incontinence underwear. The House avoided a vote on it by saying there was a bill on the same subject matter pending. That bill, which eliminated the sales tax on diapers only, is not really pending; it’s road kill in a committee, a victim of death-by-no-hearing.
This isn’t the first time someone has tried and failed to eliminate the tax on being female. In 2017, the House voted 29-65 against an amendment offered by Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, that would have axed the sales tax on menstrual products. And in 2016, the House voted 28-67 against a Rep. Christine Hale, D-Indianapolis, amendment on hygiene products, as well as 33-62 against eliminating the sales tax on diapers.
It’s not that they’re against trimming this state’s steep 7 percent sales tax on everything, lord knows. Those 2016 votes came on amendments to a bill that eliminated the sales tax on — I kid you not — gold bullion. That was signed into law, protecting all the people who are forced by biology to buy bullion. Oh, wait. That’s a choice; not a medical necessity.
Eliminating the tax is “a small way to help Hoosier women,” Hamilton told me. “Taxing a health-related product specific to women is unfair and it’s time to recognize that and do away with that tax. We also have too many women struggling to get by in Indiana, so this is a small way to help women and mothers and, thus, families.”
Menstruation has long been a taboo subject for many. The first TV ad for a menstrual product didn’t appear until 1972, and only after it was tested in two cities, including Fort Wayne, to see if there’d be outcry. And the word “period”—itself a euphemism—wasn’t used on TV until 1985 in a Tampax ad.
But it’s a fact of life. Most women menstruate once a month, some with only light flow and some with heavy fluids that require multiple changes of either pads or tampons daily. Only recently have reusable cups come on the market.
They all cost money, money that men don’t have to pay on any comparable product.
In Indiana, we exempt the sales tax on products that are considered necessities — groceries and prescription drugs. If anyone doubts that a menstrual product is a necessity, just imagine your reaction to visibly stained clothing. Or remember the massive outcry when a woman ran the London Marathon in 2015 without using any hygiene products, letting the flow course down her legs.
(I can just see many of you squirming right now. Get over it. This is a natural, healthy part of being a female.)
Tax choices represent a state’s values. In Indiana, we don’t tax Viagra, since it’s a prescription drug. But we do tax pads and tampons. Are we really saying that we value helping sexually dysfunctional men get an erection more than we do women coping with a fact of life?
So far, nine states plus the District of Columbia have eliminated the so-called Tampon Tax. The most recent state was Nevada, where it was eliminated via referendum in the November election. In 2016, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes a bill eliminating it there, citing the $20 million annual loss to the state. But that’s $20 million coming from women alone for simply being women.
A survey of low-income women, conducted via interviews and focus groups by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2017 and 2018, found that nearly two-third were unable to afford needed supplies at least once during the previous year, and 21 percent experienced that monthly.
“Many women make do with cloth, rags, tissues or toilet paper; some even use children’s diapers or paper towels taken from public bathrooms,” the report stated. “Nearly half of women (46 percent) could not afford to buy both food and menstrual hygiene products during the past year.”
Eliminating the sales tax wouldn’t solve that financial problem, but it would help.