On March 15, 2023, Rep. Stan McClain answered questions about House Bill 1069, aimed at rewriting and restricting Florida’s sex education curriculum. In a now viral video, he acknowledged that the proposed legislation he sponsored would not only prohibit instruction about menstruation to students not yet in sixth grade, but forbid any discussion whatsoever about periods during the school day.
Fluency in the menstrual cycle is not only an essential matter of personal health and hygiene, but in our post-Roe society, such knowledge rises to the highest levels of political urgency. That goes double for Floridians: In the coming weeks, the Republican-led legislature is poised to further curtail abortion; in February, the Florida High School Athletic Association attempted to mandate that student athletes submit their menstrual histories to the state.
Public officials’ own ignorance about periods—including the reality that many girls already have had started having them by or before sixth grade—should be proof enough of the foolishness of the Florida bill. But its folly is eclipsed by the clear danger posed by such ignorance.
Read more: America’s Very Real Menstrual Crisis
Consider remarks made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in support of S.B. 8, his state’s law that all but obliterated abortion access in 2021, well before the United States Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. By creating liability for anyone who provides or helps someone procure an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually at around the six-week mark of pregnancy, S.B.8 is among those laws that have earned the nickname “six-week ban.” Gov. Abbott asserted at a press conference the day after S.B.8 went into effect that the law doesn’t pose a burden because “it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”
He couldn’t be more wrong. A “six-week ban” on abortion is emphatically not the same as a six-week window to obtain one. In fact, this is Menstruation 101: Pregnancy is measured by the date of the last menstrual period (“LMP”), not the date of the missed period. For those whose cycles are a precise 28-day rotation, they are considered four weeks pregnant on the first day of a missed period. This means that in the best-case scenario—an accurate pregnancy test result on day one of a missed period in a predictable 28-day cycle—a person has a maximum of two weeks to obtain an abortion. (It’s worth noting that 87% of women do not have regular periods, especially teens, making it that much harder to benchmark a pregnancy’s 40-week countdown.)
Political leaders like Gov. Abbott and Rep. McClain, who are either woefully misinformed about the mechanics of menstruation or willfully peddling murky math and outright lies, know that limiting knowledge advances their agenda. Which is why it is increasingly vital that the rest of us—especially anyone capable of becoming pregnant—be fully engaged in understanding the ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle.
The current Florida bill aside, it is alarmingly clear we can’t rely solely on schools to impart these lessons. Not only is sex education highly polarized and partisan, only 17 states even require that it be medically accurate.
We need more avenues for sharing basic information about menstruation. Here’s an intervention that’s ripe for consideration: going directly to the billions of consumers worldwide who purchase pads, tampons, period underwear and menstrual cups, as well as other supplies and resources, on a regular basis. The federal government can and should require menstrual product companies doing business in the U.S. to provide standardized, accurate information about the menstrual cycle in their packaging and on consumer web sites. The Food and Drug Administration already mandates uniform language in tampon boxes to warn about the risks and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome. When it comes to imparting menstrual literacy, the life-saving impact is just as real.
Given that many period product companies already make menstrual advocacy part of their mission—participating in campaigns to address period poverty, combat stigma, or end the “tampon tax”—private and philanthropic support for educational campaigns should be a timely and coordinated extension of these efforts, too.
In this ominous next chapter for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, ensuring that the basics of the menstrual cycle are understood by all must be among our national priorities. A federal directive and private-public partnerships can—and must—help fill the breach.
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