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The British Medical Association (BMA) have condemned the “shameful” tax credits ‘rape clause’, accusing the UK Government of an “abhorrent attack on low income families and children”.

Changes to child tax credits and universal credit mean financial support is limited to no more than two children, apart from in exceptional circumstances such as when a third or subsequent child has been conceived through rape.

However, women are required to prove a child was conceived through rape, in a way the BMA say force them to “relive a terrible ordeal in order to be eligible to be paid child support”.

The BMA have today ratified a motion, supporting doctors who choose not to participate in the assessment process of exemptions.

The motion reads:

This meeting notes the role of doctors in the assessment process for exceptions to the general rule that child tax credits, and universal credits, are to be limited to the first two children – known as the “rape clause” because mothers seeking benefits for a third child must demonstrate that they have been sexually assaulted or that the child was conceived during an abusive relationship – and:

  • views the restriction of benefits to families with more than two children as an abhorrent attack on low income families and children
  • views the “rape clause” as a shameful process, which would force people to relive a terrible ordeal in order to be eligible to be paid child support;
  • recognises that the role that doctors are expected to play in the implementation of this policy presents them with both ethical and professional challenges; and
  • believes that many doctors will choose not to participate in this process, and fully supports them in that decision.

The UK government limited child tax credit to the first two children except in certain circumstances, including an exception for a child born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. This is the so-called ‘rape clause’.

It states that a woman can claim for a third or subsequent child if it was conceived “as a result of a sexual act which you didn’t or couldn’t consent to” or “at a time when you were in an abusive relationship, under ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child.” A woman cannot claim this exemption if she lives with the other parent of the child.

Dr Peter Bennie, Chair 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.”

SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has led a campaign calling on the rape clause to be scrapped, urged the UK Government to listen to the concerns raised by the BMA.

Thewliss said: “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.”

Concerns have also been raised by the equalities watchdog, who earlier this year joined the growing calls on the UK Government to scrap the “regressive” Tax Credits two child policy and ‘rape clause‘.

In a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath accused the UK Government of pushing through the changes without a sufficient impact assessment and warned the policy could be in breach of human rights laws.

Read more: Equalities watchdog condemns ‘regressive’ tax credit rape clause