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 Albert H. Teich /

Story updated at 5:06 p.m. EDT to include comments from Donald Trump, Carol Tobias, Marjorie Dannenfelser, and Penny Nance. 

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Once again, Donald Trump's words have roiled the pro-life movement – this time for advocating that post-abortive women should face “some form of punishment” for having an abortion, a position far outside the mainstream of the pro-life movement.

In a town hall meeting scheduled to air on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews asked the GOP frontrunner, “Should abortion be punished?”

“This is not something you can dodge,” he pressed Trump, who has shown an aversion to discussing social issues.

“People in certain parts of the Republican Party – conservative Republicans – would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump replied.

Matthews prodded, “How about you?”

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

“For the woman?” Matthews asked.

“Yeah,” Trump said, although the exact penalty would “have to be determined.”

Mr. Trump moved swiftly to clarify that his administration would punish the abortionist, not the post-abortive mother. 

“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 late this afternoon. “The woman is a victim in this case, as is the life in her womb.”

“My position has not changed,” he said, adding that, “like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions” in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Pro-life leaders have long said the post-abortive mother is a victim, not a perpetrator, and deserves support and acceptance, not hard time.

“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 just moments after the media reported Trump's comments. “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,” Mancini continued. “This is against the very nature of what we are about.”

“We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment,” she said.

Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, agreed, “These are broken and wounded women being exploited by the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood.”

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said her organization “has long opposed the imposition of penalties on the woman on whom an abortion is attempted or performed. Rather, penalties should be imposed against any abortionist who would take the life of an unborn child in defiance of statutes prohibiting abortions.”

Trump's relatively recent conversion to the pro-life message may be behind his messaging, said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “As a convert to the pro-life movement, Mr. Trump sees the reality of the horror of abortion – the destruction of an innocent human life – which is legal in our country up until the moment of birth,” she said. “But let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls seized upon Trump's comments, while his Republican rivals excoriated him for not understanding the pro-life message.

In a tweet she personally authored, Hillary Clinton wrote:

Sen. Bernie Sanders commented:

Senator Ted Cruz's campaign chairman, Chad Sweet, told CNN, “Sen. Cruz shares the views of the pro-life movement, which for years has focused on punishing those who perform the abortions, not the women who get them.”

“This has been another example of Donald Trump misstepping,” he continued. “Why? Because he's a charlatan.”

An aide to Sen.Ted Cruz, Brian Phillips, tweeted:

Ohio Governor John Kasich told NBC News, “Of course, women shouldn't be punished.”

Trump's comments follow a similar row in October 2014, when National Review's Kevin Williamson wrote on Twitter that women who have abortions should face death by hanging.

At the time Operation Rescue's Troy Newman told LifeSiteNews, “It is far outside the mainstream of pro-life thought to suggest that women who have abortions deserve capital punishment. Pro-life activists have compassion for women, who are often pressured into having abortions they don't really want.”

“The pro-life movement considers the woman the secondary victim in abortion,” he said.

One in every four women who seek abortions have been abused, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine in January 2014.

The abortion procedure often has profoundly harmful psychological effects for women, as well, experts have found. Numerous studies have confirmed a link between abortion, depression, and suicide. “Young adult women who undergo induced abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression,” according to a study conducted by the University of Oslo in 2008.

Newman said abortionists, not grieving mothers, deserve to have laws punishing their actions. “The true culprits that deserve to suffer criminal punishments are the abortionists, who prey on vulnerable women and profit from their suffering,” he said.