Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday clarified remarks he made to MSNBC earlier in the day, when he seemed to imply that women should be punished if they obtain an illegal abortion under a hypothetical Trump administration that outlaws the practice.
When asked whether he favored overturning Roe v. Wade, the billionaire businessman said he did — and would even use that question as a litmus test when considering potential Supreme Court justices during a Trump administration.
“How do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?” Matthews asked.
“[It would] go back to a position they had, where people will perhaps go to illegal places, but you have to ban it,” Trump replied.
“If you ban it, [women] would go to somebody who flunked out of medical school,” Matthews said.
“How do you feel about the Catholic church’s position?” Trump followed.
“I concur with their moral position,” Matthews, himself a Catholic, responded.
As the two spoke over each other, a few people in the audience chuckled at the banter, to which Matthews sternly admonished, “It’s not funny!”
“Do you believe in punishment for abortion? Yes or no, as a principle?”
“The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. Yeah, there has to be some form,” Trump almost hesitantly replied, appearing unsure how to phrase his answer. The candidate, though, said he didn’t know exactly what such punishment would include.
Trump’s remarks immediately drew stern condemnation from Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. Horrific and telling,” Clinton tweeted.
“Your Republican front-runner, ladies and gentlemen,” Sanders stated via Twitter. “Shameful.”
Hours after making the remarks, though, Trump attempted to clarify what he meant.
“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 in a statement on his website. “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.”
Regardless of Trump’s intentions, his original comments might severely hamper his ability to court the female vote. Some analysts believe other remarks made in the past attributed to him, which might be viewed as disparaging to women, have also hurt the campaign’s efforts to connect with female voters.
Trump’s remarks not only drew immediate criticism from Democrats, but also members of his own party.
“I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn’t say it or he was misquoted or whatever, but I don’t think so,” GOP candidate John Kasich said. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate response, and [abortion is] a difficult enough situation than to try to punish somebody.”
“Mr. Trump’s comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said. “Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby.”