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Former President Donald Trump during a March 2016 MSNBC town hall said "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who have abortions.
He walked back the comment after facing criticism. He said doctors should be punished for performing outlawed abortions.
In the seven years since he made that statement, we found no evidence that Trump has repeated it or that he currently supports penalties for women who get abortions.
Learn more about PolitiFact's fact-checking process and rating system.
A new ad from President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign takes aim at some of his Republican rivals' positions on abortion, highlighting comments by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.
But one of Trump’s remarks featured in the Aug. 25 ad — about him supporting punishments for women who have abortions — is misleading. It omits that this comment is from 2016, that Trump walked it back the same day and that he isn’t promoting this as he seeks the 2024 Republican Party presidential nomination.
PolitiFact contacted Biden’s campaign for comment but received no response.
An audience member asked Trump about his stance on women’s rights in reproductive health decisions. Trump responded that he was "pro-life," with exceptions, but gave no further details. In a back-and-forth, Matthews asked Trump about legal penalties.
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."
Trump retracted the comment that same day after he was roundly criticized by both pro- and anti-abortion activists. He issued a statement that said he meant that physicians should be held legally responsible, not women.
The statement read:
"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. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb."
The next day, Trump told "Fox & Friends" hosts that it was possible he "misspoke," saying that it had been a "convoluted" discussion.
"If, in fact, abortion was outlawed, the person performing the abortion, the doctor or whoever it may be that is really doing the act is responsible for the act, not the woman is responsible," Trump said on the show. "So, that's the way I have always felt."
Trump’s position on abortion has been hard to pin down. He described himself in 1999 and 2000 as "pro-choice," but has taken up an anti-abortion stance in recent years, flipping back and forth on the kinds of restrictions he supports.
In July 2016, then-California Sen. Barbara Boxer claimed that Trump said a woman should be punished for having an abortion. We rated that Half True, noting that although Trump mentioned punishment in the town hall, his campaign retracted that statement and there was no evidence this was a long-held position.
Seven years have passed since then and we have found no evidence he has repeated it. As a 2024 presidential candidate, Trump hasn’t said he wants to legally punish women who have abortions. He generally opposes abortion rights, but has supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. He hasn’t clarified his position on a federal ban.
During his Sept. 17 interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Trump dodged questions about where he stands on abortion, and at what point in pregnancy he would support restrictions. He said that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing a six-week ban in Florida was "a terrible mistake."
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Trump largely took credit, touting his nominations of three of the justices who voted to overturn the ruling.
A Biden campaign ad featured a clip of Trump saying "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who have abortions.
This is misleading. Trump made the comment in a 2016 MSNBC interview, but walked it back the same day.
Biden’s ad comes seven years later and leaves voters with the impression that Trump has stood by the statement after all these years. We found no evidence that he currently supports legal penalties for women who have abortions.
The ad contains an element of truth, but it leaves out critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
YouTube, These Guys | Biden-Harris 2024, Aug. 25, 2023
YouTube, MSNBC: Town Hall Interview with Donald Trump and Chris Matthews, March 30, 2016
Archive.is, DONALD J. TRUMP STATEMENT REGARDING ABORTION, March 30, 2016
PolitiFact, In Context: Transcript of Donald Trump on punishing women for abortion, March 30, 2016
PolitiFact, At DNC, Barbara Boxer says Trump said women should be 'punished' for abortion, July 26, 2016
The Washington Post, Donald Trump took 5 different positions on abortion in 3 days, April 3, 2016
Snopes, Donald Trump Supports 'Some Form of Punishment' for Abortions, March 30, 2016
FactCheck.org, Trump Walked Back Abortion Statement Misleadingly Used in Biden-Harris Ad, Sept. 11, 2023
The Hill, Trump mum on whether he’d support six-week abortion ban like DeSantis signed, May 15, 2023
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