By Botho Molosankwe and Thandi Skade
Dodgy inner-city abortionists promise to terminate pregnancies - even for women who are six months into it, an investigation by The Star has found.
The abortionists advertise on street lamps, electric meter boxes and the walls of some stores, leaving their contact numbers.
Some of them charge as little as R100. While it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy at six months, some of these "doctors" indicate that they can offer the services even to eight-month-pregnant women.
"I can make a plan. But it will be a bit painful because the longer you wait the painful it becomes. The pain will be just like a period pain," said one "Dr Marison" when asked whether he could still abort when the woman is six months into the pregnancy.
A tiny windowless room in Braamfontein acts as Dr Marison's surgery. Inside are three couches, a TV set, Department of Health posters on the wall, boxes of condoms and magazines and a stash of newspapers.
For only R450, he can offer an abortion but the amount will go up depending on how far the pregnancy is.
The procedure is as follows: The prospective patient calls him after seeing one of his countless adverts in the city and then wait for him at the Braamfontein Post Office.
The doctor will then take the expectant woman to his "surgery" which is two streets away. There, the woman will be given pills which the woman will take in his presence. She will also be given "cleaning pills" which she will have to take once the abortion is complete.
"You will bleed after two hours for the maximum of two hours. The flow won't be strong, it will just be like your normal period.
"After two hours the bleeding will stop and the abortion will be complete. At three months there is no baby, just blood. There is nothing to worry about," the doctor said.
Jock Strachan, who is the spokesperson for Marie Stopes, a nationwide clinic specialising in termination of pregnancies, sterilisation and birth control said from fertilisation to the end of the eighth week of conception, there is an embryo and from then on until birth, there is a foetus, more than "just blood".
In Dr Marison's surgery, there is no reception, no consultation rooms, no procedure room or recovery rooms - nor does he offer counselling.
But Dr Mama Aisha, who has three branches, one in Cape Town, another one in the Joburg CBD and Zandspruit informal settlement in Honeydew, said she only offered abortion up to three months and offers counselling, first to try and determine whether the procedure was necessary.
In most cases, she said, she tries to change to the mind of the woman who wants to abort because "some of them are not sure whether it is what they want".
Dr Mama Aisha, who like Dr Marison is a foreigner, refuses to perform an abortion if the woman is more than three months pregnant because "I will feel as though I am killing a baby".
While Dr Marison says at three months it's just blood, she believes that at that stage it is more than that.
Some days ago, she said, a woman who was 8-months pregnant approached her wanting to abort but she turned her away.
Unlike Dr Marison, whose specialty is abortion, Mama Aisha said she was a traditional healer and only offered abortion upon request even though her leaflets state: "Quick same-day abortion and 100% guarantee - safe and pain-free."
"I ask what your age is first and if you are still young (under 20), I ask you to come with your parents and make you sign a consent form. With these young girls, you can never know what they will also take afterwards so I also have to protect myself if something goes wrong.
"That would have scarred them and when they are married they will be surprised as to why they are having miscarriages," she said.
"If a woman wants an abortion, I giver her pills," she explained.
Unlike Dr Marison's narrow room and Dr Mama Aisha's container that act as surgeries, the clinic at Marie Stopes has a reception area, counselling room, procedure room, recovery room, change room with lockers and many others found in a proper clinic.
Bhungani Mzolo of the Department of Health said abortion was free at many government health facilities which are staffed with suitably qualified health practitioners and professionals.
Those seeking to do termination, he said, are counselled before, during and after termination.
However, he said, according to the law a pregnancy may be terminated during the first 12 weeks 3 months of her pregnancy and up to 20 weeks (5 months.)
"Patients coming for abortion pay the usual fee that every other patient pays when visiting a clinic or hospital. It varies with different areas but it will not be more than R30," he said.
Mzolo said they were doing a lot of awareness campaigns through media, as well as at clinics and hospitals.
He said backstreet abortions are not legal and those who perform them were breaking the law and risking arrest and that pregnant women were risking their lives.