Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stirred up controversy when he said there should be "some sort of punishment" for women who have abortions. Here's a look back at how he "evolved" into his pro-life views. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

You can see the exact moment last week that Donald Trump made up his mind on whether women would face criminal punishment once he signed new restrictions into law. He is at a town hall with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and, after Matthews badgers him for a while, he finally answers the question.

“The answer is ... that,” Trump says, eyes looking to the side in thought, “there has to be some form of punishment.” He punctuates “has” with a hand gesture. Done. Final.


But as it turns out — and as it has turned out repeatedly over the course of his life — that was not, in fact, Trump’s final position on the subject. This past week alone, he has held multiple contradicting positions, including that one. So we figured that a timeline was in order, so that you could see the date and time and know, concretely, what Trump’s abortion position was at that moment.

Though he might deny it.

April 1989

Trump co-sponsored a dinner at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan (which he then owned) honoring Robin Chandler Duke, a former president of NARAL. He chose not to attend, the New York Times reported, after his family was threatened by anti-abortion activists.

Oct. 24, 1999

Ten years later, Trump appeared on NBC in an interview with Tim Russert. In a clip that has received newfound life during this election cycle, Trump defends his broadly liberal positions by explaining that he grew up in Manhattan, not Iowa.

Asked about abortion, he’s clear.

“I’m very pro-choice,” Trump says. “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice.”

Russert clarifies his original point: Would you ban partial-birth abortion? “No,” Trump replies.

Between 1999 and 2011

At some point between 1999 and 2011, Trump’s position on abortion changed. He explained the reason for his switch during the first debate of 2015.

[W]hat happened is friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.

In 2011, as he was toying with running, he told activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference that, among other conservative positions, “I am pro-life [and] against gun control.”

June 28, 2015

Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Trump appeared on CNN in an interview with Jake Tapper. He got a little tripped up.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about a few social issues because they haven’t been issues you have been talking about for several years. I know you’re opposed to abortion.

TRUMP: Right. I’m pro-choice.

TAPPER: You’re pro-choice or pro-life?

TRUMP: I’m pro-life. I’m sorry.

March 30, 2016, 2:30 p.m.

The interview with Matthews is taped, and Trump asserts that women who receive abortions once the procedure is illegal will face punishment. The men are involved will not, he adds.

News of the comments quickly leaks.

March 30, 2016, 3:30 p.m.

Before the MSNBC town hall even airs, a spokesperson for Trump releases a statement changing what he told Matthews.

March 30, 2016, 5 p.m.

About an hour later, Trump’s campaign releases a more formal “statement regarding abortion.” It’s different than what he said to Matthews and his initial 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 statement says, “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.” (It’s worth noting that this is in line with the pro-life movement’s position.)

The statement includes a snippet written in the first person: “My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

April 1, 2016, 6:30 p.m.

CBS releases an excerpt of its interview with Trump that aired Sunday morning. Asked again about abortion, Trump’s position seems to change yet again.

“The laws are set now on abortion and that’s the way they're going to remain until they’re changed,” he said, according to CBS’s transcript. “I would’ve preferred states’ rights. I think it would’ve been better if it were up to the states. But right now, the laws are set.... At this moment, the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.”

Understandably, this is not well-received. The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List replies that he had “disqualified himself as the GOP nominee” if this were his position.

Trump also offered a reason for his initial comments to Matthews: “I’ve been told by some people that was an older line answer and that was an answer that was given on a, you know, basis of an older line from years ago on a very conservative basis.”

April 1, 2016, 9 p.m.

Again before the program airs, the Trump campaign re-frames what the candidate said.

“Mr. Trump gave an accurate account of the law as it is today and made clear it must stay that way now — until he is president,” it read. “Then he will change the law through his judicial appointments and allow the states to protect the unborn. There is nothing new or different here.”

Should Mr. Trump’s position on abortion not be anything new or different again in the future, this article will be updated.