STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says women should not be punished for abortions hours after he said they should. His original remark outraged both people who favor abortion rights and people who oppose abortions. Consider Marjorie Dannenfelser, an anti-abortion activist heard earlier on today's program.
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MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: The pro-life movement has never, for very good reason, promoted the idea that we punish women. In fact, we believe that women are being punished before the abortion ever occurs.
INSKEEP: She said it sounded like Trump has never given this issue much thought, even though it is vital to many in the Republican Party. NPR's Sarah McCammon is following the Trump campaign. She is in Wisconsin where a primary is coming right up. Sarah, good morning.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How unhappy are abortion opponents today?
MCCAMMON: Well, as we heard, for a long time, the anti-abortion rights movement has been unified around the idea that while they'd like to end legalized abortion in most or all cases, punishing women isn't the way to go. They say abortion is bad for women and that providers should be held accountable, not women. And, Steve, these groups don't want to come across as anti-woman. That is a charge that's often leveled at organizations that oppose abortion rights or public funding for contraception. And this could be a problem for Republicans. I mean, these issues are almost certain to come up in the general election. And Republicans have to think about the female vote. So this comment by Trump was very off-message, and we did see him quickly walk it back saying providers should be punished, not women.
INSKEEP: And you're underlining an important point here. There's a moral and philosophical argument to be made here about what it is right, what is wrong, who should be punished, if anyone. But there's also a political argument, and you're saying that this is seen, even by those who oppose abortion, as a political loser, this idea.
MCCAMMON: It seems that way. And it is a reminder, Steve, that, you know, Trump has not always been a Republican and has not always been against abortion rights, which is something that his Republican rivals for the nomination have gone after him for. And, you know, this statement really just highlighted that. And we are hearing, you know, anti-abortion activists saying - anti-abortion rights groups, you know, saying that Trump needs to listen. And he was called yesterday out of touch with the pro-life movement, as one statement put it. So, you know, these are some real doubts we're seeing about Trump's authenticity. And I should also point out that some of these organizations that have come out to criticize Trump have already backed Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
INSKEEP: Well, how is Cruz using this incident?
MCCAMMON: You know, he is far behind Donald Trump in the Republican race. But he is seizing on the same idea saying that Trump hasn't carefully thought out these issues. But, Steve, if you look at what's been going on with the Republican race, you know, Trump is beating Cruz even among Evangelicals. So this is a reminder that, you know, Trump doesn't fit in the traditional boxes a lot of candidates fit into. And, you know, again, we're seeing how Trump isn't incredibly well-versed in some of these issues - sometimes struggles when pressed for specifics. But it doesn't seem to matter to many Republican primary voters.
INSKEEP: Republican primary voters - but what if he were to get the Republican nomination? And he, of course, is leading. What does this mean for the general election?
MCCAMMON: That is where this could really be a big concern for Republicans, Steve. You know, we are likely to hear about this more and more. Within just a couple of hours of this coming out yesterday, Hillary Clinton pounced on it. You know, she tweeted out a video that was basically just what Trump said plus a little bit of music under it. So - and yesterday on Snapchat, she had a story on her Snapchat account going after Trump for this too. So it's going to be a talking point. We're going to hear that clip a lot. Trump already has very poor approval ratings among female voters. In the last NBC Wall Street Journal poll, 70 percent of women overall had a negative view of Trump. Forty-seven percent of Republican women said they couldn't see themselves supporting him. So this kind of a stumble is not going to help him with women. It could be compounded, too, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee and Trump winds up running against the woman who, if elected, would be the first female president.
INSKEEP: Did you just say almost half of Republican women - at least in this one survey - said they could not imagine voting for Donald Trump?
MCCAMMON: Right, Steve, 47 percent of Republican women, which is a big number and could be a real obstacle for Trump in a general election.
INSKEEP: Sarah, thanks as always.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon in Wisconsin.
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