Trump walked back his remarks just a short time later, saying in a statement that only the doctor performing the abortion would be held legally responsible, not the women undergoing the procedure.
Earlier, when asked to clarify the remarks made on MSNBC, Trump's campaign said in a statement: "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times."
But his original comments sparked a firestorm.
Both Democratic candidates immediately responded on social media. “Your Republican frontrunner, ladies and gentlemen. Shameful,” Bernie Sanders tweeted. Clinton appeared to be appalled as well. “Just when you thought it couldn't get worse. Horrific and telling. -H,” she tweeted.
Women’s Pro-Choice advocacy groups including Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and NARAL Pro-Choice America issued sharply worded responses as well. “Donald Trump is flat-out dangerous. Women’s lives are not disposable. There’s nothing else to say, as Donald Trump’s remarks today have,” Executive Vice President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Dawn Laguens, said in a statement.
But leaders of the Pro-Life movement, as well as Trump’s fellow GOP candidates, also expressed dismay at the idea that a woman would be punished for seeking an abortion. “No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion,” March for Life Education and Defense Fund Jeanne Mancini said in a statement.
“What’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wrote in a statement. “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.”
Cruz, who is pro-life, has been one of the instrumental voices in the Senate calling to defund Planned Parenthood.
John Kasich, who is pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, expressed similar sentiments. “Abortions shouldn't be punished,” he said on MSNBC. “I don't think that's an appropriate response and it's a difficult enough situation than to try to punish somebody."