Texas lifts tampon ban at bar exam after complaints over discriminatory policy

“I felt like an outlaw at the bar exam because I needed menstrual products,” says Sarah Riffel, who took the test last summer. Ben Powell for The Texas Tribune
“I felt like an outlaw at the bar exam because I needed menstrual products,” says Sarah Riffel, who took the test last summer. Ben Powell for The Texas Tribune

(AP)Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Tampons and pads are no longer contraband at the upcoming bar exam for aspiring lawyers in Texas.

Pausing a practice that critics called retrograde and discriminatory, the state’s board of law examiners said in late July that test takers will be allowed to bring feminine hygiene products in clear plastic bags with them to the grueling, multiday exam that’s needed to obtain a law license. It’s unclear if the policy will remain in place for a later exam, in February; the board’s executive director, Susan Henricks, said the board doesn’t know the “conditions” under which the test will take place due to the pandemic.

Test takers previously could not carry menstrual products into the exam. But Henricks said the items were provided and that the only intent was to “operate the examination fairly and securely, not to discriminate unfairly against any person or group.”

Sarah Riffel, an attorney from Pearland, saw the restrictions firsthand when she took the bar exam last summer. She didn’t feel well the morning of the test but thought it might be anxiety — after all, the three-day exam was the culmination of three years of law school and then several months of studying eight hours a day.

Just as the exam was going to start, though, Riffel realized it wasn’t just nerves upsetting her stomach and hurting her head. She’d started her period unexpectedly. A dash to the bathroom revealed one kind of menstrual product had been supplied — a box of super-absorbent tampons with cardboard applicators that some find uncomfortable. Over the next two days, she ran to her car at lunch and smuggled in menstrual products that she used in the building before returning to the test room.

“I felt like an outlaw at the bar exam because I needed menstrual products,” she said.

Several states have allowed test takers to carry in the items, but the Texas Board of Law Examiners, an agency of the state’s Supreme Court that administers the bar exam, was not previously among them.