Labour's campaign chair Megan Woods is standing by a social media post which likens National's prescriptions policy to dystopian TV show and novel The Handmaid's Tale.
National's deputy leader Nicola Willis says it is an irresponsible and baseless scare campaign which shows the government has got into the gutter and closed the book on political kindness.
The government is set to remove the current $5 fee for prescriptions from next month under a $619 million scheme announced in this year's Budget.
National's leader Christopher Luxon and Willis said National would bring the fee back with some carve-outs for people with Community Services and SuperGold cards.
Woods took to twitter yesterday after Luxon confirmed there would be no specific exemption for contraceptives, captioning a link to a news story "Unbelievable" before minutes later posting an image from The Handmaid's Tale TV show.
Just going to leave this here pic.twitter.com/xLbtNcVWI8— Megan Woods (@Megan_Woods) May 31, 2023
The show - based on a novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood - is a futuristic dystopian satire in which women are forced to bear children for the nation Gilead, located where the United States is now.
Willis said Woods' post was "frankly appalling".
"If this is the kind of campaign that Labour wants to have they're going to put a lot of New Zealanders off," she said. "Let's have real debates about real policy issues, not manufactured issues."
She said National believed access to contraception was "really" important, and was not proposing to change it from the current status quo in any way.
"There's the free contraception clinics where there is the subsidised birth control that is available, we want women to continue to have access to those things - in fact we want to enhance those rights.
"We're also looking - and I've spoken to our health spokesperson DR Shane Reti about this - at whether or not there are some longer-acting contraceptives that should be more subsidised than they are at the moment."
Woods stood by her social media post.
"What I am saying is that this was about priorities. When faced with a choice about whether or not to give women access to free contraceptives Christopher Luxon has laid out very clearly where his priorities are and it is not to do that."
She rejected the suggestion the previous prime minister, Jacinda Ardern - under whose watch the $5 fee remained for more than five years - had overseen a Gilead-style New Zealand.
"Absolutely not. There are lots of things that we want to do. Being in government is a programme of work, we have shown in Budget '23 that is a priority that we have made and it's one I'm really proud of.
"What National have shown and what Christopher Luxon have said is that they do not see women's access to contraceptives as a priority and they will reverse that."
Willis said she was personally offended by Woods' tweet.
"To have my party likened to a terrible, kind of, apocalyptic show is just pathetic really. It's the kind of thing that if my kids did to each other in primary school I'd say 'come on, don't be so dirty, actually talk about the issues, be sensible, grow up a little bit."
"This is about a government that has got into the gutter and is getting into completely ridiculous, baseless attacks. Chris Hipkins got the chapter titled 'political kindness' and he snapped it shut, he's put Megan Woods out there on a complete scare campaign that frankly I find is completely irresponsible.
"I am proud to be the deputy leader of a party that takes women's health extremely seriously. I'm someone who voted to see women's abortion rights enhanced, I spoke passionately about that in Parliament. Megan Woods well knows that in her party there are people who spoke on the other side of that debate, actually."
That is true, but not unique to Labour. The bill removing abortion from the Crimes Act was treated as a conscience issue, allowing MPs from across the House to vote as they wished rather than toeing the party line.
It passed in 2020, with 37 Labour MPs voting for it and nine against; 19 National MPs for and 35 against; two NZ First MPs for, seven against; eight Green MPs for; one ACT MP for; and one independent for.