Garth George writes that we can ban tobacco and demonise alcohol, yet abortion is greenlighted without debate.

While the compulsive-obsessive nico-nazis celebrate depriving our jailbirds of their perfectly legal tobacco, a gullible Minister of Corrections, Judith Collins, makes what will turn out to be an unsupportable rod for her own back. Meanwhile, a group of our so-called high-powered citizens get together to push for tougher laws on another perfectly legal product, booze.

Smoking contributes to the deaths of a few thousand people a year; excessive alcohol consumption to a few thousand more.

But what about the more than 17,500 potential New Zealanders who were vacuumed into oblivion in abortion clinics round the country in the 2009 calendar year, most of them illegally under the provisions of the law supposedly administered by the Abortion Supervisory Committee?

Not even the statistics themselves, which were released by the Government Statistician in mid-June, have appeared in any major newspaper or other medium that I have seen.

Once again, all but a handful (2 per cent) of the 17,550 abortions performed last year were on the grounds of serious danger to the mental health of the mother - a ratio that has been constant since 1977 - which means there must be a hell of a lot of mentally unstable women in our land.

There is, perhaps, a glimmer of hope to be had in the fact that last year's figure was 390, or 2 per cent, fewer than in 2008, and was the second year of a small downward trend.

It could be that there is an increasing recognition in the community that abortion not only destroys an innocent and defenceless unborn child but is also harmful to the physical and mental wellbeing of the women having induced abortions.

It could be, too, that the ruling of the former Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, that women must be offered an ultrasound scan of their baby before they decide to abort it, has had a positive effect. He was acting on a complaint by the pro-life group Right to Life that four district health boards - Auckland, Waikato, Wairarapa and Canterbury - did not offer women the chance to view the scan before going ahead with an abortion.

In the United States, increasing use of ultrascan has led to big reductions in the number of abortions as women who seek counselling see the perfectly formed little human being moving in their wombs.

Nevertheless, some of last year's abortion statistics are more chilling than others. For instance, last year nearly 6500 women had repeat abortions: 19 had their seventh (or more), 63 their sixth, 136 their fifth, 441 their fourth, 1364 their third and 4423 their second. What does that tell us about the effectiveness of "counselling"?

Depressingly, 3952 teenagers, and children as young as 11, had induced abortions last year. Of them, 592 had had a previous abortion and 67 girls were on to their third or more. What does that tell us about the effectiveness of "sex education"?

But the most sinister aspect of all this is that the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which is supposed to administer the abortion law as passed by Parliament, continues to act illegally.

In a High Court judicial review of the committee in 2008, sought by Right to Life, Justice Forrest Miller said in his judgment: "In my opinion, the statistics and the committee's comments over the years ... do give rise to powerful misgivings about the lawfulness of many abortions. They tend to confirm [the] view that New Zealand essentially has abortion on request."

Yet nothing has changed. The alleged threat to the mental health of the mother remains the grounds for nearly all the abortions granted.

The three-year warrants of the three members of the committee expired in the middle of last month and so far Justice Minister Simon Power has not made a recommendation to the Governor-General on the personnel for a new committee, two of whom must be medical practitioners.

The members up for reappointment are Professor Dame Linda Holloway, of Dunedin, as chairwoman, Dr Rosemary Fenwicke, of Wellington, and the Rev Patricia Allen, of Christchurch.

There is growing pressure being put on Mr Power, by Right to Life and others, not to reappoint Dr Fenwicke on the grounds of conflict of interest. One of the duties of the committee is to supervise abortion certifying consultants, who are empowered to authorise the disposal of unborn children, yet Dr Fenwicke is herself a certifying consultant.

She is also an abortionist at the Level J abortion clinic at Wellington Hospital, the second busiest abortion facility in New Zealand - it performed 2867 induced abortions in 2008 - and was formerly medical director of the central region of the Family Planning Association, which is the major abortion referral agency in New Zealand.

It is only to be hoped that Mr Power will have the guts and the nous to use this as an opportunity to clean up the whole illegal, closed-shop abortion industry.

Otherwise, the annual slaughter of the innocents will remain our most dreadful and heartbreaking tragedy and disgrace.