The Unconstitutional Tampon Tax
51 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2018 Last revised: 21 Feb 2019
Date Written: August 27, 2018
Thirty-six states impose a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, while products like spermicidal condoms and erectile dysfunction medications are tax-free. This sales tax — commonly called the “tampon tax” — represents an expense that girls and women must bear on top of the cost of biologically-necessary items that they need in order to go to school, work, and otherwise participate in public life. This Article explores the constitutionality of the tampon tax and argues that it is an impermissible form of gender discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause. First, menstrual hygiene products are a unique proxy for female sex, and therefore any disadvantageous tax classification of these products amounts to a facial classification on the basis of sex. There is no “exceedingly persuasive justification” for taxing menstrual hygiene products, and so the tax must fail intermediate scrutiny. Even assuming arguendo that the tampon tax is not viewed as a tax on female sex, it is still unconstitutional because it cannot pass rational basis review.
Since 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have repealed their sales tax on menstrual hygiene products. Many state legislatures will consider similar repeal bills in upcoming legislative sessions. At the same time, women also have brought class action litigation in four jurisdictions, seeking a declaration that the state tampon tax is unconstitutional and requesting a refund of prior taxes paid. The Article develops the constitutional arguments that can be used by litigators in any ongoing or future case, recognizing that menstrual equity activism, including impact litigation, is likely to continue in the future.
Ultimately what and whom a society seeks to tax signals its larger values. The continued imposition of state sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, seemingly without a principled distinction from other products that are exempted as necessities, exacerbates the aggregate economic inequality that already exists between the sexes. The tampon tax should be repealed in all states.
Keywords: Equal Protection, Gender, Sex, Discrimination, Menstrual Hygiene, Tax, Taxation, Sales Tax, Tampons
JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K30, K34, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation