A political firestorm erupted Wednesday afternoon when Donald Trump said during a pre-taped MSNBC town hall in Wisconsin that he would favor “some form of punishment” for American women who have abortions if the procedure were to become illegal. During the mid-day taping on MSNBC, Hardball host Chris Matthews battered Trump with a series of pointed questions on abortion that sort of knocked the GOP frontrunner off-balance.
Via the Daily Mail:
‘Should abortion be punished? This is not something you can dodge,’ Matthews asked.
‘If you say “Abortion is a crime” or “abortion is murder,” you have to deal with it under the law. Should abortion be punished?’
Trump replied that ‘people in certain parts of the Republican Party, and conservative Republicans, would say, “Yes, they should be punished”.’
Asked for his personal view, Trump called abortion ‘a very serious problem, and it’s a problem we have to decide on. It’s very hard.’
‘But you’re for banning it,’ Matthews interjected.
Trump engaged him: ‘Are you going to say – well wait, are you going to say put them in jail? Is that the punishment you’re talking about?’
‘No, I’m asking you because you say you want to ban it. What does that mean?’ Matthews pressed.
Trump ultimately said ‘there has to be some form of punishment,’ for women who have abortions if the practice were to be outlawed.
At least a couple of pro-life groups, worried that Trump’s stated position could damage the pro-life cause, immediately put out statements disavowing it.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said Trump’s comments were “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”
Susan B. Anthony List, another group that opposes abortion, also responded with a statement from its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser.
“As a convert to the pro-life movement, Mr. Trump sees the reality of the horror of abortion,” Dannenfelser said. “But let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another.”
GOP rival Ted Cruz also issued a statement in response to Trump’s comments on MSNBC:
Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention. On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life. Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.
Trump walked back his comments later in the day, saying in an email to the Daily Mail that the abortion issue “is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination.”
“Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro- life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times,” Trump said.
Two hours later, he told a crowd of about 1,000 that ‘nobody respects women like Donald Trump. Nobody will be better for women.’
The Trump campaign continued the clean-up Wednesday afternoon with a mass email to supporters, espousing a more conventional conservative approach on the question of illegal abortions:
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.
Meanwhile, National Review’s Quin Hillyer noticed an even more egregious part of Trump’s answer to Matthews’ question — namely, his call for a return to the days of “back-alley abortions.”
While trying to explain his position (or trying to make up a position as he went along), Trump also stepped into this thicket (as reported by the Daily Mail): “Matthews asked him how he would go about banning abortions. ‘You go back to a position like they had,’ he replied, ‘where they would perhaps go to illegal places, but we have to ban it.’”
Scrutinize that for a moment. If that doesn’t play into the hands of the anti-life movement, nothing does. This is a wink-wink/nudge-nudge to the idea that illegal abortion mills or perhaps even back alleys are to be accepted as alternatives to legal abortions — rather than that, say, adoptions should be promoted, along with community support for pre-natal care and both pre- and post-natal counseling.
This is what happens when a candidate who hasn’t taken the time to educate himself on policy tries pandering to what he thinks his supporters want to hear.