- There are two ways to enforce laws against abortion: prosecute doctors or prosecute women. Historically, as well as in most countries today, abortion prosecutions typically target the doctor. This practice is endorsed by today’s anti-abortion movement, which regularly proclaims that women are abortion’s “second victims,” deserving compassion rather than punishment.
Abortion drugs complicate this strategy. When no doctor is involved, the woman who uses abortion drugs might seem less like a “second victim” and more like a criminal.
In Chile, the small number of abortion prosecutions annually typically target doctors. El Salvador prosecutes women. Government officials there have toured the country’s hospitals to inform doctors of their duty to report women suspected of having induced their miscarriages. Not only does this policy violate near-universal norms of patient confidentiality, but because doctors have no reliable way to tell a natural miscarriage from an abortion, reports are made on the basis of suspicion. Whom do doctors tend to suspect most readily? Poor women.