In Context: Transcript of Donald Trump on punishing women for abortion

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump participates in an MSNBC town hall meeting in Green Bay. (Photo from Getty)
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump participates in an MSNBC town hall meeting in Green Bay. (Photo from Getty)
During a March 30, 2016 town hall meeting in Green Bay, Donald Trump stated that women should be punished for having an abortion. 
 
Denouncements of the remarks by the Republican presidential front runner were swift. 
 
Later the same day, Trump’s campaign issued a statement saying Trump actually meant that if abortion were outlawed, doctors who perform abortions should be punished. 
 
To bring clarity to what Trump said at the town hall meeting, we offer In Context, our periodic feature that fleshes out sound bites that get widespread attention. 
 
During the town meeting, a young woman from the audience asked Trump a question. Then Trump and Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who was moderating the event, got into a lengthy exchange that saw Trump try to turn the tables and press Matthews on how his own views jibe with teachings of the Catholic Church.
 
Here is the exchange and the seemingly straight-forward question that prompted it. The following text is based on a transcript and our viewing of the video. We’ll note there was quite a bit of crosstalk, making it difficult to hear some words. 
 
 
QUESTION: Hello. I am (inaudible) and have a question on, what is your stance on women’s rights and their right to choose in their own reproductive health?
 
TRUMP: OK, well look, I mean, as you know, I’m pro-life. Right, I think you know that, and I -- with exceptions, with the three exceptions. But pretty much, that’s my stance. Is that OK? You understand?
 
MATTHEWS: What should the law be on abortion?
 
TRUMP: Well, I have been pro-life.
 
MATTHEWS: I know, what should the law -- I know your principle, that’s a good value. But what should be the law?
 
TRUMP: Well, you know, they’ve set the law and frankly the judges -- I mean, you’re going to have a very big election coming up for that reason, because you have judges where it’s a real tipping point.
 
MATTHEWS: I know.
 
TRUMP: And with the loss of (Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia, who was a very strong conservative...
 
MATTHEWS: I understand.
 
TRUMP: ... this presidential election is going to be very important, because when you say, "what’s the law, nobody knows what the law’s going to be. It depends on who gets elected, because somebody is going to appoint conservative judges and somebody is going to appoint liberal judges, depending on who wins.
 
MATTHEWS: I know. I never understood the pro-life position.
 
TRUMP: Well, a lot of people do understand.
 
MATTHEWS: I never understood it. Because I understand the principle, it’s human life as people see it.
 
TRUMP: Which it is.
 
MATTHEWS: But what crime is it?
 
TRUMP: Well, it’s human life.
 
MATTHEWS: No, should the woman be punished for having an abortion?
 
TRUMP: Look...
 
MATTHEWS: This is not something you can dodge.
 
TRUMP: It’s a -- no, no...
 
MATTHEWS: If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under law. Should abortion be punished?
 
TRUMP: Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say, "yes, they should be punished."
 
MATTHEWS: How about you?
 
TRUMP: I would say that it’s a very serious problem. And it’s a problem that we have to decide on. It’s very hard.
 
MATTHEWS: But you’re for banning it?
 
TRUMP: I’m going to say -- well, wait. Are you going to say, put them in jail? Are you -- is that the (inaudible) you’re talking about?
 
MATTHEWS: Well, no, I’m asking you because you say you want to ban it. What’s that mean?
 
TRUMP: I would -- I am against -- I am pro-life, yes.
 
MATTHEWS: What is ban -- how do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?
 
TRUMP: Well, you know, you go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places --
 
MATTHEWS: Yeah. 
 
TRUMP: But you have to ban it. 
  
MATTHEWS: You banning, they go to somebody who flunked out of medical school.
 
TRUMP: Are you Catholic?
 
MATTHEWS: Yes. I think...
 
TRUMP: And how do you feel about the Catholic Church’s position?
 
MATTHEWS: Well, I accept the teaching authority of my church on moral issues. 
 
TRUMP: I know, but do you know their position on abortion?
 
MATTHEWS: Yes, I do.
 
TRUMP: And do you concur with that position?
 
MATTHEWS: I concur with their moral position but legally, I get to the question -- here’s my problem with it...
 
(Laughter in the audience.)
 
TRUMP: No, no, but let me ask you, but what do you say about your Church?
 
MATTHEWS: It’s not funny.
 
TRUMP: Yes, it’s really not funny. What do you say about your church? They’re very, very strong.
 
MATTHEWS: They’re allowed to -- but the churches make their moral judgments. But you running for president of the United States will be chief executive of the United States. Do you believe...
 
TRUMP: No, but...
 
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?
 
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. 
 
MATTHEWS: For the woman. 
 
TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form. 
 
MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What?
 
TRUMP: I don’t know. That I don’t know. That I don’t know.
 
MATTHEWS: Why not?
 
TRUMP: I don’t know.
 
MATTHEWS: You take positions on everything else.
 
TRUMP: Because I don’t want to -- I frankly, I do take positions on everything else. It’s a very complicated position.
 
MATTHEWS: But you say, one, that you’re pro-life, meaning you want to ban it. 
 
TRUMP: But wait a minute, wait a minute. But the Catholic Church is pro-life. 
 
MATTHEWS: No, let’s not talk about my religion.
 
TRUMP: No, no, I am talking about your religion. Your religion -- I mean, you say you’re a very good Catholic. Your religion is your life. Let me ask you this.
 
MATTHEWS: I didn’t say very good. I said I’m Catholic. And secondly, I’m asking -- you’re running for president.
 
TRUMP: No, no...
 
MATTHEWS: I’m not.
 
TRUMP: Chris -- Chris.
 
MATTHEWS: I’m asking you, what should a woman face if she chooses to have an abortion?
 
TRUMP: I’m not going to do that.
 
MATTHEWS: Why not?
 
TRUMP: I’m not going to play that game.
 
MATTHEWS: Game?
 
TRUMP: You have...
 
MATTHEWS: You said you’re pro-life.
 
TRUMP: I am pro-life.
 
MATTHEWS: That means banning abortion. 
 
TRUMP: And so is the Catholic Church pro-life.
 
MATTHEWS: But they don’t control the -- this isn’t Spain, the church doesn’t control the government. 
 
TRUMP: What is the punishment under the Catholic Church? What is the...
 
MATTHEWS: Let me give something from the New Testament, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." Don’t ask me about my religion.
 
TRUMP: No, no...
 
MATTHEWS: I’m asking you. You want to be president of the United States.
 
TRUMP: You told me that...
 
MATTHEWS: You tell me what the law should be.
 
TRUMP: I have -- I have not determined...
 
MATTHEWS: Just tell me what the law should be. You say you’re pro-life.
 
TRUMP: I am pro-life.
 
MATTHEWS: What’s that mean?
 
TRUMP: With exceptions. I am pro-life. I have not determined what the punishment would be.
 
MATTHEWS: Why not?
 
TRUMP: Because I haven’t determined it. 
 
MATTHEWS: When you decide to be pro-life, you should have thought of it. Because...
 
TRUMP: No, you could ask anybody who is pro-life...
 
MATTHEWS: OK, here’s the problem -- here’s my problem with this. If you don’t have a punishment for abortion -- I don’t believe in it, of course -- people are going to find a way to have an abortion.
 
TRUMP: You don’t believe in what?
 
MATTHEWS: I don’t believe in punishing anybody for having an abortion. 
 
TRUMP: OK, fine. OK. 
 
MATTHEWS: Of course not. I think it’s a woman’s choice.
 
TRUMP: So you’re against the teachings of your church?
 
MATTHEWS: I have a view -- and a moral view.  But I believe we live in a free country, and I don’t want to live in a country so fascistic that it could stop a person from making that decision.
 
TRUMP: But then you are...
 
MATTHEWS: That would be so invasive...
TRUMP: I know, but I’ve heard you speaking...
 
MATTHEWS: So determined of a society that I wouldn’t be able -- one we are familiar with. And Donald Trump, you wouldn’t be familiar with.
 
TRUMP: But I’ve heard you speaking so highly about your religion and your church.
 
MATTHEWS: Yeah. 
 
TRUMP: Your church is very, very strongly, as you know, pro-life.
 
MATTHEWS: I know.
 
TRUMP: What do you say to your church?
 
MATTHEWS: I say, I accept your moral authority. In the United States, the people make the decision, the courts rule on what’s in the Constitution, and we live by that. That’s why I say.
 
TRUMP: Yes, but you don’t live by it because you don’t accept it. You can’t accept it. You can’t accept it. You can’t accept it.
 
MATTHEWS: Can we go back to matters of the law and running for president because matters of the law, what I’m talking about, and this is the difficult situation you’ve placed yourself in.
 
By saying you’re pro-life, you mean you want to ban abortion. How do you ban abortion without some kind of sanction? Then you get in that very tricky question of a sanction, a fine on human life, which you call murder?
 
TRUMP: It will have to be determined.
 
MATTHEWS: A fine, imprisonment for a young woman who finds herself pregnant?
 
TRUMP: It will have to be determined.
 
MATTHEWS: What about the guy that gets her pregnant? Is he responsible under the law for these abortions? Or is he not responsible for an abortion?
 
TRUMP: Well, it hasn’t -- it hasn’t -- different feelings, different people. I would say no.
 
MATTHEWS: Well, they’re usually involved.