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Opinion

Should tampons be free?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Ashe Schow,Gender Issues,Feminism

Should women be given free tampons? That’s what columnist Jessica Valenti argues for in her latest article for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Valenti claims that because women make up half the world’s population and need feminine hygiene products (unlike her headline, the article is not specific to tampons) for a good chunk of their lives, they should be free.

“But this is less an issue of costliness than it is of principle: menstrual care is health care, and should be treated as such,” Valenti wrote.

I would counter that food is something that 100 percent of the population needs, multiple times a day, every day of their lives. Shouldn’t that be treated as health care?

Valenti’s “give me free stuff because, woman” argument* seems much less extreme when she suggests simply making feminine hygiene products exempt from sales tax or tax deductible.

“[I]n the U.S., though breast pumps, vasectomies and artificial teeth are sales tax-exempt and tax-deductible medical care, tampons are not even exempted from sales tax in some states (including California and New York, two of the most populous states),” Valenti wrote.

Feminine hygiene products are also not deductible on income taxes, because they would be seen as "personal use" items, which the Internal Revenue Service does not include as medical care.

"You cannot include in medical expenses the cost of an item ordinarily used for personal, living or family purposes unless it is used primarily to prevent or alleviate a physical or mental defect or illness," according to the IRS medical and dental expenses publication. "For example, the cost of a toothbrush and toothpaste is a nondeductible personal expense."

The IRS’s publication, which Valenti links to, also includes abortions, birth control pills, in vitro fertilization and pregnancy test kits as medical care that can be expensed.

You know what else is not tax deductible? Aspirin; something nearly everyone uses many times a year and is recommended by many doctors to prevent heart attacks (although the Food and Drug Administration says otherwise). Unless a medication is prescribed (not just recommended) by a doctor, it can’t be expensed.

Now, I agree with Valenti that tampons probably shouldn’t have a special tax, like what exists in the United Kingdom, because they’re already subject to sales tax here in the U.S.

But free just because women need them? That, along with cries for free birth control or free whatever just because we’re women stops looking like equality and more like a new class of privilege.

*Full disclosure: I’m a woman.

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