Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Wednesday that women who end pregnancies should face punishment if the United States bans abortion, prompting a torrent of negative reactions from critics, including his White House rivals.
After MSNBC broadcast a clip of an interview with Trump's comments, the billionaire appeared to walk back his remarks by saying the abortion issue should be handled by states.
Trump said in the excerpt that even if abortions are banned, some women would access the procedure illegally.
"There has to be some form of punishment," he said. Asked what form he would advocate, Trump said, "That I don't know."
Trump's comments unleashed a flurry of criticism, and his campaign quickly emailed a statement to Reuters in which Trump moderated his view.
"This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination," Trump said in the statement.
MSNBC is expected to air the rest of the interview later on Wednesday.
The billionaire has been under pressure to demonstrate he is conservative on issues such as abortion. But rivals also have criticized him for comments that offended women and minority groups. Polls show women generally have poor opinions of Trump, though Republican women tend to have favorable views of him.
On Wednesday, Trump's latest remarks drew furor from across the political spectrum.
"Of course women shouldn't be punished," rival Republican candidate John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, told MSNBC. Kasich said he opposes abortion except in specific cases such as rape.
"I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn't say it or he was misquoted or whatever," Kasich said. "I don't think that's an appropriate response."
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the third candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, earlier this year released an ad saying voters could not trust Trump because he has not always opposed abortion.
Cruz spokesman Brian Phillips on Wednesday tweeted that Trump did not understand the position of abortion opponents. March for Life, an anti-abortion group, said in a statement that activists want women to "consider paths to healing, not punishment."
Abortion supporters also took Trump to task.
"Just when you thought it wouldn't get worse," Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, wrote on Twitter. "Horrific and telling."
Dawn Laguens of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the women's health group, called Trump "flat-out dangerous" in a statement. "Women's lives are not disposable," she said.
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll in March, 66 percent of all likely women voters said they had an "unfavorable" view of Trump. But among the 460 Republican women who responded to the poll, 62 percent had a "favorable" view of the New York businessman, while 38 percent did not.
Trump's insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election has opened discord in the party. On Tuesday, both Trump and Kasich abandoned pledges to support the party's eventual nominee. Cruz did not explicitly abandon the pledge but said Trump would not be the nominee.
"If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country ... I can't stand behind them," Kasich said.
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