A pair of bills has been introduced by Michigan Representative Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) to make feminine hygiene products freely available in public schools and restrooms operated by the state, including public universities.
“There’s an article on Facebook I saw about a woman in New York working on similar issues and I just thought that this is something we should do in Michigan and it’s a conversation that we should start to have,” Roberts said.
The proposed legislation can be seen as a response to wider coverage of feminine health, menstruation in particular, becoming more commonplace. By putting pressure in the conversational square and in legislative forums, advocates of women’s health are hoping to shift the conversation about periods from a hushed, dirty secret to a frank discussion of its necessity for women.
House Bills 5426 and 5427 are currently sitting in the Committee on Government Operations. At the time of writing, Roberts indicated the committee had not announced a date for hearings on the bills, though Roberts and cosigners of the bills feel confident that the legislation will receive attention soon.
“I think with the increased (news) coverage and other states – there’s even a bill at the federal level to eliminate the tax on feminine hygiene products – I’m hoping that we’re going to start to see some movement,” Roberts said.
On campus, the response from female students has largely been approving of the initiative.
“Tampons and pads are so expensive, so expensive,” journalism senior Bryce Airgood said. “It’s $10 just for like a nine-pack depending on the brand, it’s awful. So for students who maybe don’t have the funds necessary to buy that type of stuff it’s really nice, it’s a really good idea.”
Cayley Winters, president of MSU Students for Choice, was similarly supportive of the legislation and noted the difficulty some women on campus face when attempting to acquire feminine hygiene products through dispensers in women’s restrooms.
“The biggest complaint I have heard from folks is either how they don’t have change readily available for tampons at the machines, or that when they go to buy sanitary products the dispensers are sometimes not properly stocked,” Winters said.
Winters said she had no complaints if the legislation goes far enough, though her biggest concern is whether the bills will actually become law.
“I am worried about how it will be perceived in Congress,” she said. “Most of our Congress in Michigan makes up an older male population who never think about these sorts of things. ... I hope the bill passes and that we can start to see some help for our ladies out there soon.”
Roberts noted that the bills have received bipartisan support with two of its co-signers being Republicans. Still, Roberts is confident that her legislation is a step in the right direction in women’s health advocacy.
“We need to be talking about women’s health issues like this and not have any discomfort about it, or we need to take away the taboos about talking about a variety of women’s health issues, and I think these bills are an opportunity to advance that conversation,” Roberts said.