Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump came under fire Wednesday after saying women should face "some form of punishment" for getting abortions if the practice becomes illegal in the U.S.
His comments came as he worked to defend his stance on women's issues in the wake of an ongoing argument with GOP rival Ted Cruz over the candidates' wives and after a public fued with Fox News' Megyn Kelly.
"You'll go back to a position like they had where people perhaps will go to illegal places ... but you have to ban it," Trump told MSNBC's Chris Matthews in a pre-taped town hall segment scheduled to air Wednesday.
"The answer is there has to be some form of punishment," he said.
"For the woman?" Matthews asked.
"Yes," he replied.
Trump declined to elaborate on the type of punishment a woman should face, saying that he takes positions on everything "but this is a very complicated position."
It took little time for his rivals in the race to the White House to seize on the comments.
"Of course women shouldn't be punished," Republican presidential hopeful and Ohio Gov. John Kasich told MSNBC.
"I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn't say it or he was misquoted or whatever but ... I don't think that's an appropriate response. It's a difficult enough situation to try to punish somebody," Kasich said.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Cruz said Trump's comments showed he "once again" failed to think seriously about the issue, "and he'll say anything just to get attention."
"On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life," Cruz said. "Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world."
Trump appeared to walk back his comments later Wednesday, saying if abortion was banned the practitioner -- and not the woman getting the abortion -- should be held responsible.
"The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb," Trump said. "My position has not changed - like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions."