Donald Trump has changed his mind after calling for women who have abortions to be punished, only hours after suggesting it.
The Republican presidential hopeful had proposed “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if they were made illegal.
After strong criticism, Donald Trump repeated the Republican party line that only the person performing the abortion should be punished, not the women.
Donald Trump supports a ban on abortions, with some exceptions.
Abortion has been legal in the US since 1973 after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
Only the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment has the power to overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal.
Donald Trump’s initial comments made during a town hall event with MSNBC sparked a wave of criticism.
He later maintained: “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.”
Once a Democrat, Donald Trump has been criticized for supporting abortion rights in the past.
Some anti-abortion groups criticized Donald Trump’s initial comments as extreme.
“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,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
“No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.”
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump’s stance on women’s issues.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. Horrific and telling,” said Hillary Clinton after his latest comments.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump’s closest rival in the Republican race, also condemned the tycoon’s comments.
“Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention,” Ted Cruz said.
His spokesman Brian Phillips added on Twitter: “Don’t overthink it: Trump doesn’t understand the pro-life position because he’s not pro-life.”
Republican leaders have expressed concern about Donald Trump’s prospects in the general election because polls show that he is extremely unpopular with female voters.
Donald Trump has come under fire for disparaging women including former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and TV presenter Megyn Kelly.
His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested on March 29, accused of a minor assault on a female reporter. Donald Trump has vehemently defended Corey Lewandowski.
Anti-abortion activists traditionally have avoided placing blame on women who undergo abortions, but have focused on those who perform the procedure.
In recent years, conservatives have sought to tighten restrictions on abortion clinics and doctors rather than seek an outright ban.
Abortion rights advocates say these measures are meant to restrict women’s access to abortion.
The new laws are particularly widespread in conservative southern states.