After two days of silence, National MP Simon O'Connor says he stands by his view the US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade was "a good day" but removed his social media post because the response to it had got out of control.
O'Connor on Saturday posted "today is a good day" after the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision on abortion – a decision which opened the way for states in the US to ban abortion.
O'Connor removed the post at the request of National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who had said the National Party position was that it would not change abortion laws in New Zealand.
O'Connor said he had discussed it with Luxon and agreed it should be removed after looking at some of the comments on it.
"The comments were just spiralling. It was getting worse and worse and it was very clear to me that people were distressed and it was important to pull that back."
He said he was "pro-life" and still believed the Supreme Court decision was a good day.
"I'm a pro-lifer, so yes."
However, he said the post had been "a misstep on my part" and he would apologise to caucus this morning.
"I am very clear this has caused distress and trouble for the party that wants to focus on big matters. So I am going to be very clear, as I already have been to colleagues in messages, that this was a misstep on my part. It's a distraction from our core messaging."
O'Connor said he did not feel he had been gagged by Luxon.
"Not at all. There is no gag order.
"I made the choice to bring it down because the distress it was causing, particularly through the comments, was getting pretty bad. I respected and enjoyed the conversation with Christopher and other colleagues to help guide my decisions. Let me be absolutely clear, I have not been gagged.
"I'm a great advocate for free speech, but all rights have limits and in this case the nature of the comments, the hurt and the distress, I thought actually this has to stop and I can't be facilitating it."
Luxon said when he spoke to O'Connor, O'Connor had already realised the distress his post was causing. Luxon's concern was that it was being interpreted as the National Party stance on the matter.
"It was a very straightforward conversation which was 'hey listen, this post is purporting to represent the National Party, and it's not the National Party position, and secondarily it's insensitive."
Asked what he had to say to those people who had agreed with his sentiments in that post, O'Connor said there was still a way to express those views such as by emailing him.
Asked why the post was left up for hours before it was removed, he said he had been water blasting without his phone so had not realised the response to it or that Luxon was trying to contact him.
Asked what his message was to his constituents who were upset by it, he said he encouraged them to speak their views.
"I've never hidden my pro-life views … but I encourage them as I always have to speak to me, let me know."
Christopher Luxon: 'the post was going to come down, one way or another'
Luxon said he had not had to tell other MPs not to post anything on the matter. "I was able to have a conversation with one MP that did, and it was very constructive, and that's how we do business in the National Party."
Asked if he would have considered it so constructive if O'Connor had refused to remove the post, he said "for me it was pretty clear the post was going to come down, one way or another".
"He had already got himself to that place before we had the call. The reality was it wasn't the National Party position and it was insensitive."
He said he had spoken to several MPs on both sides of the issue before he issued his own statement setting out the National Party position.
Luxon said he could understand why there was so much distress about the Supreme Court decision. "It is incredibly distressing and it's been a real shock and the reason is you've had a wholesale repeal, not just a watering down of abortion law, but a wholesale repeal and rejection of 50 years of abortion law. So I understand the anxiety of that. I'm very grateful that in New Zealand that's not how we do legislation."
He said MPs should be able to air their views – he was pro-life himself but wanted others to be able to voice their views on the issue. "As a member of Parliament, I can have a personal view but my job is to represent all interests of New Zealanders. I've been very clear about that."
O'Connor said he had no intention of putting forward a member's bill on the issue of abortion and was comfortable with Luxon's position that abortion laws would not change under a National Government.
"Caucus makes these decisions. We are a party that has a range of views and we freely and openly discuss them.
"Fundamentally people need to understand I have a pro-life view which is no secret to anyone."
While a majority of the National MPs in 2019 had voted against abortion reforms, he said that did not mean the issue should be revisited.
"You're conflating votes on a previous law which has now been decided with what a government wants to focus on. Quite clearly, for myself, I want to be part of a government that focuses on the big issues like the economy, health and law and order."
He said he did hope to stand again in 2023.
Asked if he still had confidence in O'Connor, Luxon said he did support O'Connor but re-selection was an issue for the local electorate of Tamaki.