Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders decried Donald Trump for saying on Wednesday that an abortion ban should come with "some form of punishment" for women who have the procedure.
"Just when you thought it couldn't get worse," Clinton, the former secretary of state, tweeted.
"Horrific and telling," she added.
Sanders, a Vermont senator, tweeted: "Your Republican frontrunner, ladies and gentlemen. Shameful."
During a pretaped town-hall event earlier in the day, MSNBC's Chris Matthews repeatedly pressed Trump for specifics on the abortion issue.
After he asked Trump if he's for women being imprisoned for lengthy sentences, the Republican presidential frontrunner said that the exact punishment would be "something we have to decide on."
They've set the law and, frankly, the judges, 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, and with the loss of [Antonin] Scalia, who was a very strong justice, this presidential election is going to be very important.
He added that the legality of abortion depends on the November election, which could have a significant impact on the direction of the Supreme Court.
"When you say what's the law, nobody knows what the law is going to be," Trump said. "It depends on who gets elected."
In a statement, the Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said she agreed with Trump about the importance of the November elections. But she also furiously tore into Trump's "vileness and contempt for women."
Wasserman Schultz said in part:
It will indeed be Donald Trump and Republican candidates who are punished come November. The Republican Party's presidential frontrunner has said out loud what the leaders of his party have been working toward since the right to a safe and legal abortion became settled law decades ago — the criminalization of women that denies them the right to make their own decisions about their health care.
Roughly an hour later, Trump walked back his statement completely in a release. He said that, if abortion were banned, the person performing the abortion, and not the woman having one, would be held "legally responsible."
He said in the statement:
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. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.
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