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Donald Trump Says He Wants to Punish Women for Illegal Abortions, Then Completely Reverses His Position

Trump said he would ban abortions and punish women who get them, but later walked back his statement, saying doctors, not women, should be held responsible.
Photo via Tannen Murphy/EPA

Donald Trump has once again managed to anger people on both sides of one of the most polarizing issue in the country.

During an townhall interview with MSNBC, Trump said that he supports a ban on abortion and that if a woman tries to get one illegally, then "there has to be some form of punishment."

When MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews asked Trump to clarify what kind of punishment, the Republican front runner said he wasn't sure yet.


Trump repeatedly said he was "pro-life" during the interview, which will air later this evening. MSNBC aired a clip of Trump's remarks on abortion after taping the townhall earlier Wednesday.

But mere hours after NBC publicized the interview, Trump's campaign issued a revised statement completely reversing his earlier comments.

If abortion was made illegal, Trump's statement read, "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman."

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He then added, "My position has not changed."

But during the taped exchange, Matthews clarified whether Trump meant that "the woman" should be punished. "Yeah," Trump responded, "there has to be some form [of punishment]."

Matthews also asked Trump on Wednesday whether men, too, should bear responsibility for abortions. Trump said no, "he didn't think so."

If abortion was outlawed, Trump told Matthews, "you'll go back to a position like they had where people will, perhaps, go to illegal places." But he added, "you have to ban it."

Trump has wavered on the issue of abortion over the years. He acknowledged his difficulty with the issue during Wednesday's interview on MSNBC, saying that he does "take positions on everything else, but this is a very complicated position."

In 1999, Trump said during an appearance on Meet the Press that he "hates the concept of abortion" but "still, I just believe in choice." He also said on the program that he would not ban partial-birth abortions.


Senator Ted Cruz has made a big issue of Trump's past statements on the issue, including them in a television ad earlier this year.

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Predictably, it did not take long for Trump's initial comments about punishing women to ignite a firestorm of criticism. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is also running for the GOP nomination, condemned Trump's statement. "Of course, women shouldn't be punished," Kasich told MSNBC in response.

In a moment of apparent foresight, Kasich predicted that Trump would walk back the comments. "I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn't say it or he was misquoted or whatever," he told MSNBC. "But … I don't think that's an appropriate response."

Cruz also chimed in on Wednesday, saying in a statement that Trump's initial comments show "that he hasn't seriously thought through the issues" and is just seeking attention.

"On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what's far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it's also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life," Cruz said in the statement. "Of course we shouldn't be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world."

Even pro-life groups distanced themselves from Trump. March for Life, a pro-life advocacy organization that has endorsed Cruz for president, said in a statement that Trump's comment is "completely out of touch with the pro-life movement," and that "no pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion."


Even before his comments on Wednesday, Trump has faced a major problem with female voters this election cycle. He has the highest unfavorable ratings of any GOP candidate among Republican women, nearly half of whom say they could not foresee supporting him for president. That number only gets worse outside of the GOP. About 70 percent of women nationally say they view him unfavorably, according to a Huffington Postaverage of recent polls.

After Trump's initial comments were made public, the hashtag #AbortionPunishment surfaced on Twitter. Many pro-choice supporters pointed out that women already face many restrictions in trying to access legal abortions.

Kelly Baden, the Director of State Advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, tweeted: "#abortionpunishment we already face: harassment, stigma, threats."

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, weighed in as well.

— Planned Parenthood (@PPact)March 30, 2016

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @OliviaLBecker

Update: This story was updated at 5:10pm to include Trump's statement reversing the comments he made on MSNBC earlier Wednesday afternoon.