The Scottish Labour Party leader spoke out against the UK Government’s child tax credit reforms, which will require a victim of sexual assault with more than two children to fill out a “form of shame” in order to claim money.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling was among those to praise Dugdale, who read out a letter from a rape victim who said filling out such a form would have “tipped me completely over the edge”.
The policy will mean that tax credits are limited to two children, with an exemption for women who became pregnant as a result of rape.
Addressing Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Dugdale said: “Tell us why rape victims have to pay the price of the deficit while you give tax cuts to the richest people in our society.
“The disabled, the poor, the ill, the carers of our society have all been victims of Tory austerity and not content with that, the Tories have now turned their grasping, grubby, miserly attention to the tax credit system, one of Labour’s finest achievements.
“Is there no end to the Tory’s desire to ensure those with the least have even less?”
Dugdale said that women who have two children and who then have a third as a result of a rape will be “at the mercy” of the government.
She described the rape clause as “utterly horrific and abhorrent” before reading out a letter from a rape victim who would have been deeply affected by such a clause.
The letter, written by a woman who was raped by a family friend, “exposes the reality of the Tory rape clause”, Dugdale said.
The letter in full:
“Four years ago, one of my closest friends – someone I trusted – raped me.
“It happened once. I used emergency contraception but still fell pregnant. For lots of reasons I decided I couldn’t terminate the pregnancy and went on to have a baby.
“The speculation about the father was awful. I accepted that I would be labelled sexually promiscuous as a result. I was prepared for that.
“I expected – and received – horrendous treatment from my husband’s family; I was prepared for that.
“I was prepared for the financial hardship having just been made redundant; I was as prepared as I could be for life as a single parent.
“What I wasn’t prepared for was the impact the labelling would have on my three existing children, born into wedlock and bought up in a stable family home.
“I wasn’t prepared for the shame that I would feel.
“I wasn’t prepared for the fear of anyone finding out and refusing to believe me.
“I wasn’t prepared for the feeling that suicide was the only way out.
“I certainly wasn’t prepared for the amount of hatred and resentment that I would have for my own child.
“Years on and I have a happy, healthy, child. They are worshipped; not just by me but by my extended family and even better my husband; a brave and loving man.
“My child doesn’t know where they came from and if I have anything to do with it they never will.
“Nobody knows; aside from me, my husband and the mental health nurse who helped me through this living hell.
“Though far from perfect and with challenges of its own; I hope the secrecy will give them the chance to live as close to as normal life as possible.
“There have been so many pleas to take legal action or to widen the circle of trust to allow those who love me to provide support during the difficult times, but this is a risk I could never take; my need to protect my children from the truth came above all other considerations.
“The wider the circle of midwives, consultants, family – the less chance I had of protecting myself and my children from the permanent and damaging stigma attached to rape.
“I claimed tax credits from birth to eleven months old; the hand up I needed when I was at my most vulnerable to allow me to re-stabilise my family.
“Tax credits kept our heads above water, a buffer between us and the food bank. For that I am eternally grateful.
“There is no way I could complete that awful form of shame, no matter what the consequences.
“Looking back that really could have been the thing that tipped me completely over the edge; the difference between surviving to tell the tale and not.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also opposed the child tax credit reforms which she said will “push families into poverty”.
Dugdale was widely praised for her speech.
MSPs voted 91 to 31 in favour of the motion to call on Westminster to remove the two-child cap on tax credits and scrap the”rape clause”.