GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — After saying on Wednesday that he believes there should be punishment for women who undergo abortions if the procedure was outlawed, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walked back the comment hours later.
In an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the GOP front-runner described himself multiple times as “pro-life” but struggled to define what the legal ramifications of that position should be. When continually pressed for what the answer is regarding punishing women who would break any theoretical ban, Trump said the “answer is that there has to be some form of punishment, yeah.”
Later in the day, his campaign released a statement refocusing who would be punished should abortion become illegal. “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 statement 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.”
When asked during the MSNBC town hall what kind of punishment he had in mind, Trump lacked specifics at the time and said he has “not determined what the punishment would be.” Trump noted that he does “take positions on everything else but this is a very complicated position.”
“If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law,” Matthews stated, making the pivot from the moral position of being pro-life to the practical implications of implementing that position in the law.
Trump asked Matthews, “Are you going to say, well wait, are you going to say put them in jail? Is that the punishment you’re talking about?”
Matthews responded that that’s the question he was asking the front-runner himself. Trump responded that he was pro-life.
The MSNBC host followed up wondering if a man should bear responsibility for abortions as well, to which Trump said “no” he didn’t think so.
Trump asked repeatedly about the Catholic church’s position on abortion, at multiple points trying to turn the questions on the interviewer himself in relation to how he squared the moral position of the church with the real life implications.
When pressed on if the United States should change the law of the land on abortion as set by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade Trump responded: “You’ll go back to a position like they had where people will, perhaps, go to illegal places.” Still, he maintains “you have to ban it.”Ohio Republican John Kasich, who participated in an MSNBC town hall moderated by NBC’s Chuck Todd earlier in the day, was asked if he agreed with Trump on the prospect of punishing women for abortion. “Absolutely not,” Kasich responded. “I do have exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother but of course women shouldn’t be punished,” he added.
In Wednesday’s town hall meeting, Trump also continued the defense of his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, saying that he didn’t think an initial apology from his campaign manager would’ve changed the current situation.
“I think if he called up to apologize, I think we’d be in the exact same place,” he told Matthews, wondering if Lewandowski may have even apologized in the moment. “They’re destroying a very good person … over nothing,” Trump said. “He’s a good person with a wonderful family.”
Trump called the incident in question “so minor” before continuing to discredit former Brietbart reporter Michelle Fields by attacking the premise of her story. “What’s contact?” he hedged, noting that her facial expression didn’t change despite saying she was almost pulled to the ground by Lewandowski. Trump later added that he was “skeptical” about her.
The GOP front-runner says “nobody respects women” more than he does. That respect, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to Fields. “I would say I don’t have great respect for her,” Trump told Matthews. He also dodged when asked why he didn’t have sympathy for Fields, instead pointing out that the tape being used by the police investigation was his tape and saying that there are more pressing issues at play, like ISIS and foreign threats.
As he’s said before, Trump alleged that Fields touched him twice and questioned if he should even go so far as to press charges against her. He once again posited that she was breaking the rules as the press conference was over and she was still trying to ask questions by dogging him as he left the room.
Trump also called out the Jupiter Police, saying that “what they’ve done is, I think, outrageous.
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com. This story has been updated throughout.