|Trump: Women who get illegal abortions should be ’punished’. — AFP Photo|
WASHINGTON - Women who have illegal abortions should be punished, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said yesterday, before backpedalling after a firestorm erupted over just 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.
"There has to be some form of punishment," the billionaire reality television star said in excerpts of an interview to be broadcast later yesterday on MSNBC, after host Chris Matthews asked: "Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no?"
"For the woman?" asked the host. "Yeah, there has to be some form," Trump responded, after calling for a "ban" on the procedure.
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 capitalise 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 evangelican Texas senator, bashed Trump, accusing the real estate mogul of saying "anything just to get attention."
Ohio Governor John Kasich, the third runner 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."
The Trump campaign later yesterday issued a statement on abortion, without mentioning his remarks to MSNBC, but reversing the stance he took in the interview.
If abortion were to become illegal under US law, then the doctor or any other person involved in performing the procedure would be legally responsible, the statement said.
"The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed - like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions," said the statement.
It was the latest flip-flop for Trump, who has taken contradictory or competing stances on issues including torture, bans on Muslims entering the United States, violence at his rallies and the racist Ku Klux Klan movement.
Despite his success in state-wide Republican nominating contests to date, a major challenge for Trump is winning support from women voters.
Trump has called women "fat pigs," "slobs" and "disgusting animals," and most recently was castigated in the media for posting an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife next to a photo of his own wife, an ex-model.
Trump has denied being sexist, saying his remarks are just "show business" and that "nobody respects women more than I do."
Wisconsin is the next state to host a primary, on April 5. According to a new poll from Marquette University Law School, 40 per cent of likely voters there said they supported Cruz, compared to 30 per cent for Trump.
Seventy per cent of registered voters polled said they have an unfavourable view of Trump, compared to about 22 per cent that have a favourable view. – AFP