, WASHINGTON, United States, Mar 31 – Women who have illegal abortions should be punished, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Wednesday, before backpedaling after a firestorm erupted over his latest controversial comment.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton branded Trump’s remark “horrific,” Bernie Sanders called it “shameful” and even major pro-life groups spoke out strongly against punishing women who have abortions.
Trump’s comment came during a combative interview on MSNBC, with host Chris Matthews pressing the billionaire reality TV star to specify how a woman should be punished, if abortion were banned in the United States.
“This is the difficult situation you placed yourself in, by saying you’re pro-life you want to ban abortion,” Matthews said. “How do you ban abortion without some kind of sanction?”
Trump tried to sidestep the question, saying he hadn’t determined what kind of punishment a woman should face for having an abortion, but acknowledged “the answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.”
Asked if the man who gets the woman pregnant should be punished, Trump responded, “I would say no.”
The 69-year-old Trump, who during his political life has been a Democrat and an independent and is only a recent convert to the “pro-life” anti-abortion position, has been accused in the past of flip-flopping on the hot-button issue.
Clinton wasted little time in voicing her disgust at Trump’s remarks, the latest in a series from a candidate accused of peddling misogyny and anti-Muslim sentiment on the campaign trail.
Trump is also struggling badly to attract women voters nationally.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. Horrific and telling,” Clinton said in a tweet.
As the outcry grew, the Clinton campaign posted a flurry of tweets saying all women deserve equal access to health care, apparently seeking to capitalize on the momentum.
“We can’t let someone with this much contempt for women’s rights anywhere near the White House,” one posting said.
Clinton and other Democratic lawmakers are defenders of a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, a procedure still fiercely opposed by many Republicans, four decades after the US Supreme Court affirmed its legality nationwide.
Even Trump’s ultraconservative rival Ted Cruz, an evangelical Texas senator, bashed Trump, accusing the real estate mogul of saying “anything just to get attention.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich, the third candidate in the Republican race for the White House, also weighed in: “Of course women shouldn’t be punished,” he told MSNBC.
Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood, which conservatives oppose for its abortion practices, said Trump “is now inciting violence against women for making a decision that’s theirs to make.”