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Trump Backtracks On Comments About Abortion And 'Punishment' For Women

Presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) films a town hall meeting for MSNBC with Chris Matthews.

Donald Trump said women who undergo abortions should be punished if the procedure is made illegal. In an interview for a town hall meeting to air on MSNBC Wednesday night, Trump said "there has to be some form of punishment" for women.

While most Republican officeholders and candidates oppose abortion rights, few have publicly stated positions on whether there should be legal penalties for women who have abortions. Most believe it is the physicians who perform them who should be prosecuted.

Then, in a statement issued by the campaign after his remarks were made public, Trump said:

"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. 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."

Still, Trump's remarks managed to inflame both sides of the abortion issue.

The abortion rights advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice America called Trump's comments "a new low." The group's president, Ilyse Hogue, said, "Not only is this an unhinged position far from where the American people are, but it's sure to endanger women were he to become president."

March For Life, a group that opposes abortion rights, said Trump's statement was "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, "No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about."

The presidential campaigns were also quick to criticize Trump. Ted Cruz tweeted:

And Cruz's campaign chairman, Chad Sweet, said on CNN that Cruz "shares the views of the pro-life movement, which for years has focused on punishing those who perform the abortions, not the women who get them." John Kasich responded that he would "absolutely not" agree with punishing women for having an abortion. "It's a difficult enough situation, to try to punish somebody."

In tweets, Democrat Hillary Clinton called Trump's comment "horrific and telling," while Bernie Sanders called it "shameful."

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