Updated with Trump statement: A few hours after telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that if abortions are outlawed, women who get them should undergo “some form of punishment,” he issued a statement suggesting that answer be ignored.
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal,” Trump said, “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.”
Trump’s total 180 had TV news pundits grabbing for the tops of their heads this afternoon. The GOP front-runner reversing so completely a stand he’s taken is as a rare as a unicorn.
Earlier today, Chris Matthews asked Trump in a town hall scheduled to air tonight, “If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law. Should abortions be punished?” To which Trump responded: “Well people in certain parts of the Republican party and conservatives Republicans would say, yes they should be punished.”
“How about you?” Matthews had pressed.
“I would say that it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem that we have to decide on. It’s very hard—” Trump had begun to tap-dance.
“But you’re for banning it,” Matthews interrupted.
“Are you going to say, well wait, are you going to say put them in jail? Is that the punishment you’re talking about?” Trump said, trying to turn the tables.
“No. I’m asking you. Because you say you want to ban it. What does that mean?” Matthews shot back.
“I am against. I am pro-life. Yes. I am pro-life,” Trump reiterated.
Matthews periodically scolded Trump during the interview, saying, “This is not something you can dodge,” etc. “It’s not funny,” Matthews snappped at one point, though it’s unclear if that was directed toward Trump, who was trying to turn the talk to Matthews’ Catholic faith, or someone in the audience:
TRUMP: It’s really not funny. What do you say about your church? They’re very, very strict.
MATTHEWS: The churches make their moral judgments, but you’re running for President of the United States to become Chief Executive of the United States. Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?
TRUMP: The answer is there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman?
Eventually Matthews could not contain himself: “Here’s my problem with this. If you don’t have a punishment for abortion, people are going to find a way to have an abortion. I don’t believe in pushing anybody for having an abortion. I think it’s a woman’s choice.”
Trump, now the moderator, asked him how he reconciled that with his Catholicism. “I have a…moral view,” Matthews answered. “But we live in a free country and I don’t want to live in a country so fascistic that it can stop a person from making that decision.”
Trump asked what he would “say to your church.”
“I say, ‘I accept your moral authority. In the United States the people make the decision. The courts rule on what’s in the Constitution. We live by that.”
Mathews, returning to moderator, told Trump, “By saying you’re pro-life you mean you want to ban abortion. How can [you] ban without some kind of sanction? Then you get into that very tricky question of a sanction. A fine? On human life? Which you call murder? A fine? Or, imprisonment for a young woman who finds herself pregnant? What about the guy that gets her pregnant? Is he responsible under the law for these abortions?”
“I would say no,” said Trump after hemming a bit.
“Well, they’re usually involved,” Matthews snarked.
Matthews’ interview with Trump is part of MSNBC’s full night of town halls/interviews with all the remaining presidential hopefuls except Ted Cruz, who declined to join in the fun. The Matthews interview with Trump will air at 8 PM ET following Chuck Todd’s sit down with John Kasich, at 7 PM ET. But we already know that Kasich, when asked by Todd whether he subscribed to Trump’s suggestion women who have abortions be punished if abortions are outlawed, responded, “Absolutely not…of course women shouldn’t be punished.”
And Hillary Clinton tweeted this:
Meanwhile, though Cruz isn’t playing ball with MSNBC tonight, Ted Cruz campaign chairman Chad Sweet this afternoon – but long before Trump’s campaign put out its statement – told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Cruz, like many who are opposed to abortion, believes in punishment for medical professional who perform abortions, not the women who get them. Trump’s response to Matthews’ question once again demonstrates Trump is a “charlatan,” he added.