On Wednesday, MSNBC aired a taped town hall event during which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that abortion must be banned in the United States and that women who receive abortions should face “some form of punishment.”
“Should a woman be punished for having an abortion?” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Trump.
“I would say that it is a very serious problem, and it’s a problem we have to decide on,” Trump responded. “I am pro-life. … You have to ban it.”
When Matthews pressed whether women who undergo abortions should be punished, Trump replied: “The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.”
Trump’s assertion that women who have abortions must suffer criminal punishment is a definitive reversal from the position the 69-year-old businessman publicly held for most of his life.
In 1989, Trump co-sponsored a dinner honoring Robin Chandler Duke, then-president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). The event occurred at the Plaza Hotel, a Trump property. The NARAL organizers announced that they would use proceeds from the dinner to promote abortion through a high-profile print and television advertising campaign.
Guests paid $500 each to attend Trump’s abortion rights event. (That’s $956.09 in today’s dollars.)
The real estate baron did not attend. Duke said Trump had planned to attend, but he canceled his appearance after receiving death threats, according to The New York Times. Trump said there were no death threats and that he chose not to attend the event he co-sponsored.
“I’m totally pro-choice,” Trump said in October 1999.
“I’m very pro-choice,” Trump told Tim Russert, adding that he had personal qualms with the procedure but did not believe his views should be U.S. policy.
“I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it,” Trump told Russert. “I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice.”
“Again, it might have a little to do with a New York background, because there are some different attitudes in different parts of the country,” Trump added. “But again, I am strongly for choice.” (VIDEO: Trump In 1999: ‘I Am Very Pro-Choice’)
“I want to see the abortion issue removed from politics,” he then said two months later. “I believe it is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.”
As a Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000, Trump again declared his pro-choice chops. “I support a woman’s right to choose,” he explained.
At the time, when he was 53, Trump had indicated that he supported abortion — including partial-birth abortion — even very late in the human gestation process.
“When Tim Russert asked me on ‘Meet the Press’ if I would ban partial-birth abortion, my pro-choice instincts led me to say no,” Trump said in 2000. “After the show, I consulted two doctors I respect.”
He said it was then when decided that partial-birth abortion — which is when an abortionist extracts a baby feet-first from a woman’s womb — is a bad idea. However, he said, he still insisted on woman’s right to choose an abortion as a general principle. (RELATED: From Immigration To Guns To Abortion, Donald Trump Must Reckon With His Progressive History)
Trump now says his views on abortion have changed dramatically in the years since he last ran for president. At the same time, he remains an enthusiastic proponent of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood praised Trump’s position on abortion in August 2015. “Donald Trump seems to have realized that banning all abortions, shutting down the government, and defunding Planned Parenthood are extreme positions that are way too far outside the mainstream for even him to take,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the abortion advocacy group, said. (RELATED: Planned Parenthood: Other Republicans Should Be Like Donald Trump)
On Wednesday, after Trump announced that women who have abortions should be criminally punished, he attempted to recant the statement. He stated that his view hasn’t changed and, if abortion were illegal, the doctor performing the abortion should be punished.
“The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” Trump said, explaining his new, updated view. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb.” (RELATED: Donald Trump Clarifies Stance On Abortion)
“My position has not changed,” Trump added. “Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
Trump’s hasty backpedaling came after an instant deluge of bipartisan denunciation from women’s groups on both the left and the right.
“Mr. Trump’s comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in a statement to The Daily Caller. “Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about.”