Scotland politics

BMA condemns so-called 'rape clause' as 'shameful'

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Image caption Tax credits are limited to the first two children in any family

The UK's largest doctors' union has heaped criticism on the Westminster government, describing the so-called "rape clause" as "shameful".

Controversial new welfare reforms mean women can only claim tax credits for their first two children.

Among a series of exemptions are children who are born as a result of "non-consensual conception".

The British Medical Association said it would support doctors who refused to take part in the assessment process.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has insisted that rape victims would not be denied child tax credits.

It has said rape victims would not have to describe the details to members of its staff.

Instead, a healthcare professional, social worker or an approved rape charity could give evidence on their behalf.

However, the BMA is concerned that the new regulations raise ethical and professional problems for doctors.

'Financial penalty'

Its UK council considered the role of doctors in the process and ratified a motion which "highlighted the terrible ordeal" of affected women.

Dr Peter Bennie, the chairman of BMA Scotland, said: "This legislation has been pushed through without thorough consultation with relevant stakeholders such as the BMA, and yet the regulations present significant ethical and professional challenges for doctors.

"The 'rape clause' is fundamentally damaging for women - forcing them to disclose rape and abuse at a time and in a manner not of their choosing, at pain of financial penalty.

"In addition to the likely negative impact on the woman and the doctor-patient relationship, there is also the impact on individual children, who may have been conceived through coercion or rape, to consider.

"This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation and I encourage doctors to consider very carefully whether to participate in this process or not."

The move was welcomed by SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has led a campaign calling for the "rape clause" to be scrapped.

Image caption Protests against the policy have been held in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with a Holyrood rally attended by many MSPs

She said: "It is a strong message to the UK government and a clear stand against the damaging and immoral rape clause which forces women to disclose rape and abuse to avoid a financial penalty.

"The SNP have led the campaign against the Tories' two child-policy and the abhorrent rape clause right from the moment it was announced in George Osborne's July Budget in 2015.

"It was the SNP who questioned it time and time again, led debates against it and gathered opposition across civil society. We will continue to call for the two-child policy and the rape clause to be scrapped in this new Parliament of minorities.

"The two-child restriction on tax credits has been opposed by many organisations as being damaging to family incomes, particularly those who are working in low-paid jobs.

"The UK government now needs to listen to the BMA as well as many other organisations who are calling out the rape clause for what it really is - absolutely shameful."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: "Forcing rape victims to fill out a form acknowledging their child is the result of rape is one of the most vile policies ever introduced by a Tory government, and that is saying something.

"Labour's government-in-waiting in Westminster would do what any decent government would and bring this abhorrent policy to an end."

However, a DWP spokesperson said: "This exemption is crucial to protect women who are faced with this very difficult situation.

"We consulted widely, and by using third-party professionals who already support vulnerable women, we can ensure it can be applied as sensitively as possible."

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