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The fight for menstrual equity made strides in Michigan last November, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a two-part bipartisan bill that repeals tax on essential menstrual products.

Under the law, feminine hygiene products, including tampons, pads, liners, menstrual cups and more,” will no longer be subject to Michigan’s 6% sales tax.

Opponents of the “tampon tax” have labeled it as unfair and a discriminatory economic burden to women. All states except for Illinois do not tax men for Viagra medication because it is deemed to be “medically necessary.” Yet, feminine hygiene products are considered a “luxury item” in 27 states and are subject to taxation.

“After years of trying to repeal this tax, I am proud that we are bringing people together to put Michiganders first and drive down costs on these essential products," Whitmer said in a statement. "Everyone should be able to take care of their most basic healthcare needs without an unnecessary added financial burden.”

Michigan joins 23 other states in repealing the tax in recent years. Almost 70% of women think sanitary items are “too expensive,” according to a survey conducted by OnePoll, which queried women on the financial impact of menstruation and period products. Shockingly, 60% of survey respondents admitted to budgeting so that they could afford to buy menstrual products, and 79% of respondents noted they made sacrifices to afford their feminine hygiene products.

If menstrual products were free, 41% of women surveyed said they would take a vacation, 39% said they would put the money toward retirement and 33% would save to buy a home.

"Menstruation doesn't choose sides of the aisle, and it is heartening to finally see the repeal of this tax on essential medical items,” said Lysne Tait, executive director of Helping Women Period, a nonprofit that provides menstrual products to underserved women.

Supporters of the bill estimate Michigan women will save $4,800 in taxes over the course of their lifetime. Estimates vary, but in her lifetime, the average American woman will spend more than $6,300 on period products, according to a 2019 study.

“The burden of this sales tax on necessary healthcare items promotes period poverty and impacts the amount of money families have to spend on other necessities,” Tait said. “This is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to the day when no one has to worry about affording menstrual products, month after month."

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Photo by Mark Thomas on Pixabay

A fight that began last year has continued into 2022 as the Supreme Court reviews a case that threatens to overturn the long-standing precedent for women’s healthcare rights in the United States.

And now, a new development on the Supreme Court puts the case back in the limelight ahead of an expected decision later this year.

How We Got Here

The case at hand, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, stems from a Mississippi law that effectively prohibits nearly all abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law includes exceptions for threats to the mother’s health or a “severe fetal abnormality.” Mississippi passed the abortion ban in 2018, and the case has ping-ponged through the lower courts before being taken up by the Supremes in 2021. This case would demolish reproductive rights set in the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

Gavel on marble
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

A whopping 69% of Americans feel Roe should not be overturned, according to one January poll by CNN. Overturning the law would allow states to make their own laws and restrictions on women’s health care rights. But public opinion may not be enough to curtail the conservative-leaning high court from changing nearly 50 years of reproductive rights precedent with the bang of a gavel.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, already the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, filed suit in federal court within hours of the law’s signing back in 2018. Since then, a federal judge struck down the law, saying it violated Supreme Court precedent and the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also agreed with the lower court’s decision to strike down the 15-week abortion ban, and through the appeals process the law has eventually landed in the Supreme Court.

A Court Divided

While abortion rights have been chipped away over the past several decades by states implementing their own restrictions––such as mandatory waiting periods, admitting requirements and more––the 1973 landmark case has stood the test of time––until now.

The Supreme Court could very well allow the Mississippi law to stand, overturning those rights standardized in Roe, which constitutionally protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without “excessive government restriction.” This is a relatively new possibility after former President Donald Trump brought in three new conservative justices during his time in office. The highest court in the U.S. now leans conservative by a 6-3 margin.

To understand––and speculate––how the court is likely to decide, it is helpful to look at comments and questions posed by the Justices during oral arguments last year.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, spoke about upholding precedence on abortion rights set decades ago. During the Dobbs hearing, Justice Sotomayor touched on the viability standard, which found that a fetus can survive outside the womb at around 24 weeks and where physicians generally draw the line for providing abortion care. That 24-week mark was decided during Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992––and hasn’t been challenged in whole since. Between Roe and Casey, the rulings ensure states cannot ban abortion before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“What hasn’t been at issue in the last 30 years is the line that Casey drew of viability,” Sotomayor said last year. “There has been some difference of opinion with respect to undue burden, but the right of a woman to choose, the right to control her own body has been clearly set since Casey and never challenged.”

The sponsors of Mississippi’s law, known as the Gestational Age Act, put the ban in place because “there are new justices on the Supreme Court,” according to Sotomayor. She was referring to Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. In her arguments, Sotomayor also asked if the Supreme Court would “survive the stench” in the public perception by overturning the law.

Also during the hearings in 2021, Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett provided clear-cut insight into their abortion rights positions and possibly their eventual judgements, legal analysts have suggested. Kavanaugh seemingly attempted to punt the issue back to Congress, which has never codified abortion care as a right in law at the federal level.

“Why should this Court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this?” Justice Kavanaugh asked during the arguments.

To be clear, Mississippi is explicitly arguing that abortion rights should be overturned in the case.

“Roe and Casey are egregiously wrong,” Mississippi argued in a court brief. “The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition.”

Of course, that lone Mississippi health clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has argued that reproductive rights are essential to gender equality.

What’s Next

It’s difficult to predict exactly how the Supreme Court will rule, but a decision is expected sometime this summer, by early July.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court hasn’t taken action fast enough. Since the Mississippi case snaked its way through the courts, abortion has already essentially been outlawed in Texas. A bill approved in late 2021 bans abortion care services at about six weeks of pregnancy––before many women even know they are pregnant. The Supreme Court has failed to stop the law twice.

Fifteen more states (and counting) have introduced or passed copycat bills that effectively outlaw abortion in those states as well. Were Roe to be overturned later this year, those laws already on the books would become effective immediately.

This is extremely alarming to abortion rights supporters, and the Supreme Court’s latest actions are also extremely unpopular. A Gallup poll from the Fall of 2021 revealed approval for the nation’s highest court had dropped to its lowest rating among Americans since 2000, when Gallup began tracking the trend. Many women’s healthcare groups are bracing for Roe to end this year, with more legal battles likely to ensue.

Just this past week, there was another new development on the Supreme Court after Justice Steven Breyer announced his plans to retire. This gives President Joe Biden the opportunity to nominate a replacement who could uphold abortion care rights for potentially decades to come. Breyer, 83, was nominated to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Following the news of Breyer’s retirement, President Joe Biden pledged to nominate a Black woman to fill the role––something he promised to do while campaigning for president. The move was applauded by women’s rights groups.

Breyer’s decision to retire comes nearly a year and a half after famed women’s rights lawyer Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died while still in her seat. She was replaced by the conservative Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who was narrowly approved for the position by the Senate just a month later.

Amy Baxter contributed to this report.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

The extreme abortion restrictions currently in effect in Texas are being challenged in a case that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

The law, which bans abortions in all circumstances once a heartbeat is detected, is currently in effect in the Lone Star State. Colloquially known as the “heartbeat bill,” the abortion ban was approved by the Texas legislature earlier this fall and went into effect Sept. 1. The extreme restrictions in the law effectively ban all abortions in the state, since an embryo’s cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks of pregnancy––before many women even know they are pregnant.

The law was met with immediate outrage as it blatantly infringes on the rights guaranteed in the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade case, which ruled abortion access is a Constitutionally protected right. Similar laws and other attempts to restrict abortion access have been passed in many states over the past decade, but the harshest laws as well as heartbeat bills have been typically thrown out by the courts.

In the case of Texas, the situation is different because the law is still standing after the highest court shockingly refused to abortion providers’ request to halt it. The Supreme Court agreed to review two cases related to Texas’ restrictive abortion law, which was approved in Senate Bill 8. The two cases are known as Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas. The Department of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to block the law, and the court will review if Justice has that ability.

For roughly two months, women in the state have been impacted by this law, and the longer the law stays in effect, more harm will come to women. There are several reports of “abortion refugees” traveling to states as far as Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas to receive abortion care.

At the same time, the Supreme Court is only about one month away from another case about abortion rights that has activists and pro-choice groups fighting back. That case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. The case is a direct threat to Roe. Should the case be overturned, roughly half of states have abortion restriction bills that would come into effect.

“In the Jackson Women’s Health Organization case centering on the Mississippi abortion ban, the Court has the opportunity to take a significant step toward doing just that by ending the constitutional right to abortion as we know it,” non-profit NARAL Pro-Choice America said this week. “We may not know until summer 2022 what the Supreme Court has decided in Jackson Women’s Health, but we must not lose sight of what’s at stake—especially with 24 states poised to ban abortion if Roe falls.”

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