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The Republican front-runner says he has "evolved" on the issue of abortion.
He was pro-choice for years before changing his position and backing a ban on abortion.
If that ban is implemented, he said it would include repercussions for women who defy it.
"There has to be some form of punishment," he told MSNBC, confirming that the punishment would be for the women who receive abortions and saying he had not determined what the punishment would be.
Mr Trump reversed his position two hours later, with a statement saying that he would punish doctors who performed abortions but not the women themselves, but not quickly enough to prevent a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Both Democratic presidential candidates, predictably, expressed outrage at Mr Trump's comments.
Hillary Clinton called them "horrific and telling" and Mr Sanders said they were "shameful".
More tellingly, pro-life groups immediately distanced themselves from Mr Trump, with March For Life saying Mr Trump was "out of touch" with the goals of pro-life advocates.
"No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," the group said in a statement.
"This is against the very nature of what we are about".
Susan B Anthony list, another pro-life group, also said Mr Trump's position was out of step with theirs.
Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Mr Trump's rivals for the Republican nomination, also back a ban on abortion. They both rejected the idea of punishing the mother, however.
Chad Sweet, Mr Cruz's campaign chairman, said Mr Trump had crossed the line in calling for such punishments because he was a "charlatan" who had changed positions to win votes without any understanding of the "pro-life movement".
Mr Kasich said Mr Trump's comments were not "appropriate", but speculated that the property mogul would "figure out a way" to back away from the comments.
Mr Trump also said he believes that the Supreme Court ruling legalising abortion should be overturned, and that individual states should be allowed to ban abortion.
The comments came just days after a poll showed that nearly three-quarters of women have an unfavourable view of Mr Trump, and one day after Mr Trump and both of his rivals for the Republican nomination backed away from their pledges to support the party's eventual presidential nominee.
Trump on Tuesday said he was rescinding his promise because "I have been treated very unfairly," and he listed the party establishment among those he believes have wronged him.
Cruz said he wasn't in the habit of supporting someone who attacked his wife and family referring to tweets from Trump abut Cruz's wife Heidi.
Based on primaries and caucuses to date, Clinton has 1,243 delegates to rival Bernie Sanders' 975.
Including superdelegates, party leaders who are free to support any candidate, Clinton has 1,712 delegates to Sanders' 1,004, leaving her shy of the 2,383 it takes to win the nomination. (© Daily Telegraph London)