Trump Calls for 'Punishment' for Women who Get Abortions, Later Backtracks

“There has to be some form of punishment” for abortion if the practice is banned and the blame should fall on the women, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Wednesday in an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

According to Trump, if the practice is banned, “You’ll go back to a position like they had where people will, perhaps, go to illegal places.” Despite this, he said, the practice should be outlawed, and women should face the consequences.

Trump repeatedly called himself “pro-life” throughout the interview.

Trump later backtracked on his comments. In a statement on his website he said the person performing the abortion would be held accountable and called the woman “a victim” in the situation.

Trump’s comments garnered harsh criticism from people on all sides.

According to Republican strategist Bruce Haynes, no “credible corner of the movement” had ever suggested women should be criminalized for getting an abortion.

And pro-life activists have made this stance clear as well. One pro-life group, March for Life, called the comments “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement.”

“No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion,” Jeanne Marcini, president of the education and defense fund for March of Life, said in a statement. “This is against the very nature of what we are about.”

Penny Nance, who heads a conservative group called Concerned Women for America, said that Trump’s comments represent a stereotype of the conservatives.

“He doesn’t understand pro-life people or the life issue,” Nance said. “He instead became the caricature that the left tries to paint us to be.”

Republicans fear that Trump’s rhetoric will only continue to alienate him from educated women voters particularly in swing states such as Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida, where the support of women voters could be crucial.According to Republican consultant Christine Matthews, who is from Virginia, “When you’re losing the types of women Republicans typically win and have to win, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Overall, female voters have found Trump to be offensive before his comments on abortion. Arecent CNN/ORCpollfound that nearly 75 percent of registered female voters see Trump unfavorably compared to just 57 percent of men. And statistics also show that Trump is even losing the support of women in his own party: nearly half of Republican women would not support Trump if he became the presidential candidate, and about a third said they would be upset if he won.

“We already had a gender gap to make up,” said Florida Republican analyst Ana Navarro. “Trump has dug that hole deeper.”

On average, in states that have already voted, Trump faced a gender gap of 6 to 7 points. Some states, such as Michigan and Alabama, saw gaps as high as 16 points.

Trump’s fellow Republican party members spoke about the comments as well. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is currently leading Trump in the polls in Wisconsin, said the interview “demonstrated that [Trump] hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention.”

Gov. John Kasich, who is pro-life but said there should be exceptions in cases such as incest and rape, said, “of course, women shouldn’t be punished for having an abortion.”

Meanwhile, some Democrats insist that despite members of the Republican party trying now more than ever to distance themselves from Trump, he is in fact representative of the rest of the party and these comments don’t change that.

“All three Republicans would drag the country back to the days when women were forced to seek illegal procedures from unlicensed providers out of sheer desperation,” said Debbie Wasserman Shultz, chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee.

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders both took to Twitter to respond to the issue. Clinton called the incident “horrific,” with Sanders calling Trump “shameful.”

Trump also recently made headlines regarding women’s rights following an assault at one of his rallies. Trump has said he “[doesn’t] have great respect” for Michelle Fields, a reporter who was allegedly assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Sixteen women, all of whom are conservative media personalities, signed a statement calling for Trump to fire Lewandowski. According to the statement, “Never in this line of work is it acceptable to respond to reasonable and legitimate questioning with the use of physical force.” Meanwhile, Trump maintains his defense of Lewandowski, who has been charged with simple battery.

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