Donald Trump on Wednesday said “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
The statement came in response to a question from MSNBC host Chris Matthews during a town hall event hosted by the cable news channel.
“Do you believe in punishment for abortion—yes or no—as a principal?” Matthews asked.
“The answer is, there has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said.
“For the woman?” Matthews asked.
“Yeah, there has to be some form,” Trump replied.
“Ten cents, ten years, what?” Matthews asked.
“That I don’t know,” said Trump.
As first reported by MSNBC’s Ali Vitali, who is embedded with the Trump campaign, the leading Republican candidate also expressed a belief that women alone should be “punished” for abortion while men should not.
Trump further emphasized that abortion should be banned in the United States, acknowledging that doing so could result in the resurgence of illegal, self-induced abortions.
NEW Trump to @msnbc: "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who have abortions but he has yet to determine what that should be.— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) March 30, 2016
.@realDonaldTrump says "you have to ban" abortion; "you’ll go back to a position like they had where ppl will perhaps go to illegal places."— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) March 30, 2016
In a statement provided by the Trump campaign, the candidate appeared to backtrack on his stance that women should be punished, saying that doctors who perform abortions “would be legally responsible, not the woman.”
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” Trump said. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed—like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
Studies have shown that anywhere from 5,000-8,000 American women died from illegal abortion in the years before Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973. Before that landmark Supreme Court decision, it’s estimated that approximately 1.2 million women sought illegal abortions each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of women seeking abortion has decreased in the years since legalization: 699,202 abortions were reported to the agency in 2012.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton responded quickly on Twitter.
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse. Horrific and telling. -H https://t.co/Qi8TutsOw9— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 30, 2016
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is challenging Trump’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, also condemned Trump’s stance on abortion, telling MSNBC that while he opposes most abortion, “of course women’t shouldn’t be punished.”
Trump’s personal stance on abortion may conflict with today’s statements. In a 2003 interview with radio shock jock Howard Stern, Trump hinted at possibly having considered terminating a pregnancy in the past—which Buzzfeed dug up this March.
Trump’s stance on abortion has vacillated over the years. In 1999 the Associated Press quoted Trump saying, “I believe it [abortion] is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.” In 2000, he wrote, “I support a woman’s right to choose” in his book The America We Deserve.
A decade later, Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference of 2011 that he was considering running for president, switching his stance on abortion rights with statements like “I am pro-life” and “I am against gun control,” reported USA Today.
In recent weeks, Trump’s comments about women have become the subject of intense scrutiny, including by Trump’s political opponents within the Republican spectrum. In a March 15 video by Our Principles PAC, a group founded to oppose Trump, women read actual comments made by Trump in the past that many find offensive.
The full MSNBC town hall with Trump, moderated by Chris Matthews, will air Wednesday night at 8pm ET.
Update 4:00pm CT, March 30: Added additional context to Trump’s town hall quote and added statement from the Trump campaign.
Photo via Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman