A botched abortion led to the discovery of dozens of aborted foetuses, and body parts, stored in plastic bags in a chest freezer at the practice of a deregistered Pretoria doctor.
The police also seized theatre medication, including anaesthetic in the hospital.
The discovery has shone a light on illegal abortions and on what seems to be the inability of the government and the Health Professions Council of SA to stop deregistered doctors from practising.
Health Department spokesman Joe Maila said illegal abortions were rampant in the country.
The Health Department’s abortion figures show that, in the 2012-2013 financial year, 89,124 legal abortions were performed.
Police and Health Professions Council inspectors arrested the Pretoria doctor on Tuesday.
She was deregistered in 2008 after one of her patients was rushed to hospital by relatives following a botched abortion.
A police spokesman said they had found a “nightmare”.
“We counted over 22 [foetuses].”
He said the seized medication had been stolen from Gauteng government hospitals.
Mzukisi Grootboom, chairman of the SA Medical Association, said the number of bogus and deregistered doctors practising was increasing.
“The council only acts on such people when alerted by the public.
“There’s absolutely no enforcement to stamp this out.”
He said that because of a belief that private-practice doctors were better than state doctors, women increasingly went to private doctors for abortions, unaware that many “doctors” were practising illegally.
Mhlanga, who was involved in the implementation of South Africa’s Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, said women chose illegal abortions for various reasons.
“These include the Health Department not prioritising termination of pregnancy services at public hospitals, and the lack of political and hospital leadership to ensure that these services are offered.
“Few hospitals tell of the termination services they offer. Hospital management is often the gatekeeper in preventing women from accessing termination services.”
Mhlanga said that to provide abortions doctors and medical facilities had to have access to medical waste-disposal systems.
“If a facility has large quantities of body parts, such as in this case, it must be asked why they have not been disposed of.”
Maila said those who performed illegal abortions were not doctors.
“They’re bogus. The complications women have after botched procedures are life-threatening.”
Women have the right to choose to abort until 13 weeks.
The law allows abortions at up to 20 weeks on the grounds of the mother’s economic or social situation.
After 20 weeks women and doctors have to show that the life of the mother or the child is at risk.
Maila said the department ran education campaigns to alert people to the dangers of illegal abortions.
Police spokesman Thomas Mufamadi said the woman doctor had been charged with possession of human body parts and illegal possession of scheduled medication.