Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau isn’t backing down from his stance on abortion, saying that party members will be expected to vote pro-choice in the House of Commons, no matter their personal or religious beliefs.

“This is about democracy,” Trudeau told CTV’s Question Period in an interview that aired Sunday. “This is about choice, and protecting that choice.”

Trudeau said the Liberals’ new policy, that MPs must vote in favour of pro-choice legislation, doesn’t mean the party is necessarily weeding out anti-abortion candidates.

“People are allowed to have their personal views, and are, of course, encouraged to have a wide range of personal views,” he said. “But when it comes to legislating away a woman’s right to choose, the Liberal Party simply will not accept that. No vote by the Liberal Party can ever take away those fundamental rights that women need to enjoy in Canada.”

Trudeau faced criticism from rival parties and, more recently, from one of his own MPs after he told reporters last month that anti-abortion party candidates would be barred during the nomination process.

Last week, Liberal John McKay, a Toronto MP who opposes abortion, was overheard slamming Trudeau’s policy remarks in a private conversation.

“I initially thought it was a bozo eruption, that he didn’t actually think about what he said,” McKay is heard saying in an audio recording obtained by CTV News. “I’ve had umpteen conversations with so many people about this. It’s driving me crazy.”

Trudeau told Question Period that he understands McKay feels “very, very strongly” about the issue, but said the Liberal Party needs to be “unequivocal” about its stance.

“We need to stand up and defend women’s rights and Charter rights,” Trudeau said.

“This is not a position about trying to gain votes or trying to play a certain angle. This is very much a position of principle.”

Trudeau also responded to criticism that he released major party policy in a reporter scrum, saying that at the time, he was responding to a direct question about pro-rights activists taking over the Liberal Party.

Trudeau told Question Period that his party’s stance on anti-abortion candidates was already in effect before his comments in the scrum.

He said the Liberals had already conducted about 100 “green light” nomination interviews before the announcement was made, during which interviewees were asked about their stance on abortion. The intention was not to eliminate anti-abortion candidates from the nomination process, he added, but to ensure that they would vote with the party on all abortion-related issues.

Trudeau also responded to comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at this week’s maternal health summit, during which the PM said abortion was too “divisive” to fund.

“If we want to address maternal health around the world, women need to have access to a full range of reproductive services and options,” Trudeau said.

The Harper government has pledged $3.5 billion over the next six years to improve maternal, child and newborn health around the world.