The drop in abortions performed in New Zealand probably indicates people are being more careful but more research is needed, says the Abortion Law Reform Association.

Statistics New Zealand figures show 17,940 induced abortions were performed in the year ending December 2008, down 440 (2.4 per cent) from the 2007 year.

"I'm hopeful that what it means is there's better use of contraception, better sex education and people are being more careful. But without research, one cannot really say that," Alranz president Dr Margaret Sparrow said. "Stats will never be able to say why the figures have gone down."

The decrease followed increases of 2.5 per cent between 2006 and 2007 and 2.3 per cent between 2005 and 2006. Women aged 20 to 24 had more abortions than any other age group last year. Most abortions performed last year (63 per cent) were the women's first.

Alranz supports unrestricted access to legal abortions.

"We would like the abortion law reflecting what happens. We totally agree with the anti-abortion groups who say that it's ridiculous that 98 per cent of abortions in New Zealand are done on the grounds of mental health, because that's patently a farce," Dr Sparrow said.

She said there would be people who believed the number of abortions performed was too high, but the solution was better access to contraception and sex education.

"If application of the law is tightened, or abortions are banned ... these numbers might well drop even further, but not because fewer women would be getting abortions."

Dr Sparrow said there were already reports of women seeking illegal access to abortion pills in this country.

Right to Life spokesman Ken Orr agreed that more research was required and said the drop in abortions was pleasing, although for his organisation the goal was to reach a figure of zero abortions.

"We would like to think the reason for the drop is a growing recognition in the community that abortion not only kills an unborn child, but is damaging to a woman's health."

He said the figures showed a "disturbing" jump in repeat abortions from 35 per cent in 2007 to 37 per cent in 2008. He said it was surprising that this year was the first time the statistics did not include information on how many weeks into a pregnancy each abortion was performed.