Key Points:

Last year, 2118 abortions were for women who had two or more previous abortions, a figure which has risen annually for more than 15 years.

The abortion rate has continued its steady rise, sparking calls for change from both sides of the contentious issue.

The number of abortions rose last year to 18,382, according to figures released yesterday by Statistics New Zealand.

This was slightly up on the preceding year and within 200 of the record high in 2003. In 1991 there were 11,613 abortions.

New Zealand's general abortion rate of 20.1 per 1000 women aged 15-44 remains comparable to slightly earlier figures from the US (19.4) and Australia (19.3) - but far ahead of other countries like Germany (7.3) and the Netherlands (8.6).

"The abortion rate is too high but women still need access to this service," Auckland Women's Health Council co-ordinator Lynda Williams said.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said the new figures "continue to paint a terrible picture for teenagers and families". They confirmed the "failure" of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which was highlighted by the High Court last week.

Ms Williams said: "Given that abortion is not a procedure women undertake lightly then the Government needs to start looking at ways other countries have successfully managed to keep their abortion rates fairly low or decreased their rates."

She urged the Government to fully subsidise medical consultations and prescriptions for contraception, and to provide more school-based sex education on the increased risks of unwanted sex and unwanted pregnancies when people drank excessively.

She applauded the Auckland District Health Board's move to make emergency contraception free for girls and women at pharmacies and said the Government should make it a nationwide policy.

Ms Williams and other pro-abortion lobbyists also want abortion shifted out of the Crimes Act and made available to women on request, purely as a health service, without first having to convince state-appointed certifying consultants that continuing the pregnancy would pose a serious danger to her life, or to her physical or mental health.

She said scrapping the certifying-consultant system would save $5.5 million a year in fees paid to them, money which could finance more contraception.

Justice Forrest Miller last week expressed "powerful misgivings about the lawfulness of many abortions" and gave weight to the view that New Zealand has abortion on request.

He said consultants might be applying abortion law more liberally than Parliament had intended.

ABORTION NUMBERS
* 18,382 abortions were performed last year.
* 17,934 in 2006.
* 18,511 in 2003, the highest annual tally.