Donald Trump believes that there should be punishment for women who undergo abortions if the procedure was outlawed, but indicated he has yet to determine what that punishment should be. 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 would be if it became the law. 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."
In every presidential election since Roe v. Wade, the Republican nominee has opposed abortion rights. GOP candidates have differed on some of the details, but broadly speaking, national Republican candidates have said largely the same thing about one of the nation's most controversial social issues.
March 30, 201606:38
The full interview will air this evening, but note in the interim that Trump didn't seem eager to answer the question. Chris Matthews asked the GOP frontrunner whether women should be punished for trying to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and Trump spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid answering.
Eventually, however, the Republican candidate said abortion has to be banned and there "has to be some form of punishment" for women who seek abortions. And what might this punishment be?
"I don't know," Trump said. "That I don't know." He added this is "a very complicated position."
Don't bother the candidate with substantive details. He prefers to be more of a "big picture" guy.
It's worth noting that Republicans have long supported an approach to abortion policy that effectively criminalizes many reproductive choices, but it's nevertheless unusual for candidates -- especially those seeking national office -- to be quite so explicit about imposing "some form of punishment" on American women.
After the interview wrapped up, the Trump campaign released a statement noting that the abortion issue is "unclear and should be put back into the states for determination." And if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, decisions would be made at the state level.
But during the interview itself, that's not what Trump said. On the contrary, referring to abortion, the Republican frontrunner didn't say, "Make it a state issue"; he said, "You have to ban it."
It didn't take long for Hillary Clinton to respond via Twitter, saying, "Just when you thought it couldn't get worse. Horrific and telling."
Soon after, Bernie Sanders added, "Your Republican frontrunner, ladies and gentlemen. Shameful."
* Update: The Trump campaign issued a slightly longer clarification this afternoon, which read as follows: "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."
Or put another way, Trump's position is not at all what Trump said during this afternoon's interview.