As a presidential candidate seven years ago, Donald Trump said women needed to face “some form of punishment” for violating abortion bans — a position he quickly retracted after being criticized. In a statement issued the same day, Trump said the physician performing the procedure should be held legally responsible — not the woman.
“The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb,” Trump said in a March 30, 2016, statement.
But the former president’s original remark about punishing women is misleadingly featured in an ad from the campaign to reelect President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
According to the campaign, the ad, which is running on digital platforms, is aimed at women in several states, including South Dakota and Iowa, where Trump traveled on Friday and Saturday. It’s part of a $25 million, 16-week campaign, a press release said.
Trump on Punishments for Abortions
The ad’s narrator says that reproductive health care decisions should be made by a woman and her doctor, “and the last people who should be involved are these guys” — referring to Trump and fellow Republican presidential candidates Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
The ad then plays an audio clip of Trump bragging that he is “the one that got rid of Roe v. Wade.” That is a nod to Trump nominating three of the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who ruled in June 2022 that the “Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” reversing the court’s 1973 Roe decision legalizing abortions up until the point of fetal viability.
As of Sep. 11, the New York Times reported that 22 states “now ban abortion or restrict the procedure earlier in pregnancy than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.”
Next, the ad notes that DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban for Florida residents in April, and it shows the governor saying at the first GOP debate in August that he believes “in a culture of life.”
After that, the ad highlights Scott saying in April that, as president, he “would literally sign the most conservative pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress.”
In contrast, Biden has said that he would support restoring “the protections of Roe as law of the land.”
Finally, the ad plays video of Trump and then-TV host Chris Matthews talking about abortion during an MSNBC town hall that aired on March 30, 2016. Matthews asks Trump, “Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?” Trump responds, “The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.”
Matthews, seeking clarity, asks, “For the woman?” And Trump says, “Yeah, there has to be some form.”
But the ad leaves out what Trump said later that evening, after his comments were roundly criticized by groups both for and against abortion rights.
In a statement published on his website, Trump took back his town hall answer.
Trump statement, March 30, 2016: 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.
Without that information, the ad’s viewers would be left with the impression that Trump stood by his town hall comment.
We contacted Trump’s campaign to ask where he currently stands on punishments for abortion, but we did not receive a response.
A National Abortion Ban
In an email to reporters, the Biden-Harris campaign said the ad, called “These Guys,” highlights “Trump and MAGA Republican Support for National Abortion Ban.”
However, the ad never makes that claim directly; it only says that Biden and Harris will “never allow a national abortion ban to become law.”
DeSantis has said that he will “always come down on the side of life” and would be a “pro-life president,” as he did in a July interview with Megyn Kelly. DeSantis told Kelly that he does not have “much confidence” that Congress could pass legislation banning abortions.
As for Trump, he also often has avoided saying whether he supports a national ban.
He did say in June that “there of course remains a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life,” and he said in April that he would work to “get something done where everyone is going to be very satisfied.”
Other times, he and his campaign have suggested that the matter should be left to the states.
“I believe the greatest progress for pro-life is now being made in the states where everyone wanted to be,” Trump said at this year’s Faith & Freedom Coalition’s conference. “That’s one of the reasons they wanted Roe v. Wade terminated, is to bring it back into the states where a lot of people feel strongly it should be, and where legal scholars feel very strongly it should be, with the three exceptions that I support and Ronald Reagan before me supported, for rape, incest, and for the life of the mother.”
Two months earlier, Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, provided the following statement to the Washington Post: “President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.