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Karl du Fresne: As the days pass and the New Zealand media continue to revel in a self-generated feeding frenzy over Roe v Wade, Luxon looks more and more compromised
Karl du Fresne
Contributing Writer
June 29th, 2022

OPINION: In the New Zealand Herald this morning, Richard Prebble says Christopher Luxon made “politically the exact right decision” in instructing his backbench MP Simon O’Connor to take down his tweet welcoming the reversal of Roe v Wade.

The key word here is “politically”, which is not the same as “morally”. A past master of the political dark arts himself, Prebble tends to view politics through a Machiavellian lens.

As the days pass and the New Zealand media continue to revel in a self-generated feeding frenzy over Roe v Wade, Luxon looks more and more compromised. On Morning Report this morning, he described the US Supreme Court’s decision as “really distressing” and “a real shock”. How does he square this with his professed pro-life beliefs?

His equivocation can only be interpreted as an attempt to ingratiate himself with the woke cabal that seeks to control the national conversation. There would be no inconsistency in Luxon unambiguously affirming his personal stance on abortion while simultaneously making it clear that a change to the abortion laws would not be on National’s agenda under his leadership, but he can’t even bring himself to do that. Conclusion: he lacks the moral courage to stand by his principles.

Two points on which I do agree with Luxon:

He is right to point out that he has repeatedly made it clear that National has no intention to relitigate abortion, but the media refuse to leave the issue alone, no matter how many times he says it. Luxon says he doesn’t want to import the culture wars from overseas but of course he’s whistling in the wind, because they’re here already.

In this instance the conflict is being stoked by media whose motive appears to be primarily ideological. This extends to journalists seeking out MPs who exercised their right to a conscience vote by opposing the 2020 abortion legislation, effectively demanding that they explain their defiance of  ideological orthodoxy and inviting them to recant. There is an ugly undercurrent of authoritarianism here, and it’s highly effective; politicians of all stripes were scuttling for cover. But the witch-hunt (for that’s what it looked like) produced delicious unintended consequences when Labour MPs Rino Tirikatene and Jamie Strange, both of whom voted against the Abortion Legislation Bill, explained that they would have been aborted had their mothers not defied medical advice. Game, set and match, you might think, but no; journalistic hubris is not so easily squelched.

I’m sure Luxon is also correct when he says most people are more concerned with the cost of living than with a judicial decision made 14,000km away and with no direct relevance to New Zealand. But the media no longer reflect the concerns and priorities of ordinary New Zealanders. The world as seen from newsrooms and TV studios in central Wellington and Auckland is very different from the world as seen from living rooms in Opunake, Manurewa and Gore.

Simon O’Connor, whose tweet provided abortion rights agitators and their media allies with the flimsy excuse they needed for their display of confected outrage, now offers a confusing and rather contradictory explanation for removing it.

On the one hand, he says he took down his comment because the online reaction was spiraling out of control. But almost in the same breath he says he did it at Luxon’s request, so it appears it wasn’t entirely his own decision and the headline on NewstalkZB’s story – “I have not been gagged” – doesn’t look entirely convincing.

He’s quoted as saying he doesn’t resile from his comment that the reversal of Roe v Wade was a good day, yet he now admits it was a “misstep” and “a distraction from our core messaging” and said he would apologise to the National caucus. This political jargon comes straight out of the spin doctor’s playbook and can mean only one thing: that the party control freaks have got to him and he’s capitulated. Why O’Connor should feel it necessary to apologise to caucus when abortion is supposed to be a personal conscience issue isn’t explained.

In the circumstances, his insistence that he hasn’t been gagged has a hollow ring. This is particularly disappointing in the light of his impassioned advocacy for free speech in the House recently, and will leave people wondering (not for the first time) where his party stands on issues of individual freedom. National looks like a party that demands conformity above all else.

And here’s another disturbing thing. If the online reaction to O’Connor’s tweet was overwhelmingly hostile, as seems obvious, then removing it was a triumph for the online equivalent of the so-called heckler’s veto, whereby agitators and disrupters negate people’s freedom of speech by the simple expedient of shouting them down. Asked what he had to say to people who agreed with his tweet, O’Connor said they could email him – but he must know that’s not the same. When you withdraw from open, public debate for fear of an adverse reaction, the other side has won by default.

Having said that, I feel sympathy for O’Connor because he must feel isolated. In a supposedly free society where all he did was express a legitimate opinion, he shouldn’t be in that position. But the media wanted to make an example of him, and they succeeded. He has been hung out to dry.

Ah yes, the media again. TV Three’s nightly wokefest The Project began last night with a vox-pop in the streets in which the people interviewed were overwhelmingly against the US Supreme Court’s decision. Quelle surprise! But the problem with vox pops, of course, is that they don’t tell us a thing, since the respondents are chosen at random and it’s always possible that some ended up on the cutting floor because they didn’t give the answer the producers were looking for.  Never mind; it served the desired purpose of giving the impression New Zealanders are united in their firm belief that abortion is a human right guaranteed by the US Constitution, which is what the overturned Roe v Wade judgment argued - not that the question would have been put to them in those terms. 

Then The Project rolled out the writer Catherine Robertson, who was presented as an authority on abortion for no better reason than that she’s one of the hundreds of thousands of New Zealand women who have had one. (What’s different is that Robertson is prepared to go on record about it, as she did here.) On The Project, nodding heads and murmurs of assent from the panellists as Robertson held forth served to reinforce a familiar aura of self-reinforcing groupthink. But here’s a question: would The Project have featured a woman who had had an abortion and now bitterly regretted it? There are such women, and I’m sure any pro-life organisation could have put the show’s producers in touch with one. Perhaps The Project mislaid their phone numbers.

That raises another point. In all the white noise in the media about Roe v Wade, one voice has been conspicuously absent – namely, that of the countless unborn children denied life, mostly because of “mental health” justifications that even the Abortion Supervisory Committee was forced to admit were often spurious. But of course the victims of abortion are forever silent, which is convenient for pro-choice activists. There are plenty of people prepared to speak for them, however, and they are silent not by choice, but because the media denies them a platform.

One last thing. In recent years there has been a striking change in the tone of pro-abortion rhetoric. Abortion is no longer portrayed just as a measure of last resort for desperate women. It is now proudly embraced and celebrated as an assertion of female autonomy. To put it another way, feminism – which was once defined simply as a belief in sexual equality – has taken a grotesque turn and now appears to measure its success in terms of the ease with which society can dispose of its most helpless and vulnerable.  Is this really its crowning achievement?

Article ordinally published on Karl du Fresne's blog and republished to The Platform with permission.

Karl is a freelance journalist and blogger living in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand.