Lawmakers advance bills to expand menstrual equity and health

By: - September 29, 2022 4:19 pm

Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) and Shanique Speight (D-Essex) talk to advocates after the Assembly Women and Children Committee’s meeting on Sept. 29, 2022, at the Statehouse in Trenton. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

When Eiko La Boria distributed free menstrual hygiene items in Jersey City as part of her community advocacy for the Thrive Coalition, one unhoused woman was so thankful La Boria found herself asking how the woman handled her period without such products.

“She said: ‘I pick a corner and sit here until it passes,’” La Boria said.

La Boria recounted the exchange before the Assembly’s women and children committee, which met Thursday to mull a series of bills intended to reduce period poverty and improve menstrual health. After 90 minutes of testimony, the committee agreed to advance every bill.

“This package of bills is about dignity, and dignity for women,” said Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen), who sponsored several of the bills. “It’s been too long that women have had to sit in the corner.”

Several of the bills aim to alleviate the cost of pads, tampons, and other period products by:

  • Requiring homeless shelters to provide free period products.
  • Allocating $200,000 for food pantries to buy menstrual hygiene products for low-income residents.
  • Requiring public assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants, and Children to include period products among the covered benefits.
  • Urging Congress to provide period products under Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC.
  • Establishing requirements for the state to buy menstrual products in bulk.

Two other bills would require manufacturers to list ingredients on the packaging of period products and health providers to screen for endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), the committee’s chair, marveled — and celebrated — that menstruation was the panel’s sole agenda of the day.

“In the history of the state, I think this is the first time that we have actually had an open discussion about menstrual products. I mean, honestly!” she said. “In the last 10 years, has that word even crossed the mind of lawmakers here in the state of New Jersey?”

Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex), who sponsored several bills, agreed: “I’m just excited we can sit here and have this conversation and normalize it.”

Both legislators and the public who testified on behalf of the bills agreed that menstrual hygiene products are essential necessities whose cost shouldn’t keep them out of the hands of those who need them.

“It’s basic. It should just be like toilet paper and paper towels,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson).

The committee’s lone Republican members worried a bill that would require a list of ingredients to be included on period products’ packaging would drive up prices if manufacturers had to produce packaging just for New Jersey customers.

But Swain, a sponsor on the bill, said the measure is needed “so that people who menstruate know exactly what they’re putting into their bodies, just like food labels.”

Committee members also agreed to merge another bill that would have required a warning about toxic shock syndrome on tampon packaging into the ingredients bill, because federal authorities already require such a warning. Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening but treatable condition that’s caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and typically affects menstruating people, especially those who use super-absorbent tampons.

The Assembly’s education committee also advanced a bill Thursday that would require schools to teach students in grades 4 through 12 about toxic shock syndrome. Called “Madalyn’s Law,” it also would require signs in public bathrooms about the syndrome’s causes, warning signs, and dangers.

The bill is named after Madalyn Massabni, a 2016 graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School who died of toxic shock syndrome in 2017.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.