Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump quickly walked back a statement he made earlier Wednesday that if abortion were illegal in the United States, then women who have the procedure should be punished - saying later that only those who performed the procedure should be punished.

“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,” Trump said in a written statement. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb.”

Earlier, at a taped MSNBC town hall to be aired later Wednesday, Trump said if abortions were illegal, women should be held responsible.

Host Chris Matthews pressed Trump to clarify, asking him whether abortion should be punished and who ultimately should be held accountable.

“Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump said. 

The candidate later put out a statement saying: “This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination.”


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Trump’s comments come at a time when he’s losing traction with women voters.

When asked specifically at the town hall what he thought, the New York businessman answered, “I would say it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem we have to decide on. Are you going to send them to jail?”

“I’m asking you,” Matthews prompted.

“I am pro-life,” Trump said.

Matthews pressed on, asking again who should be punished in an abortion case if it were illegal.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. 

“For the woman?”  Matthews asked. 

“Yeah,” Trump responded, adding later that the punishment would “have to be determined.”

His rivals seized on the remarks. Ohio Gov. John Kasich later told MSNBC “of course women shouldn’t be punished.”

An aide to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted: “Don't overthink it: Trump doesn't understand the pro-life position because he's not pro-life.”