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Donald Trump said of Planned Parenthood: "I would defund it because I'm pro-life, but millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood"

The billionaire front-runner's rivals have repeatedly targeted his past statements on abortion

Washington CNN  — 

Donald Trump on Thursday night promised to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but not before offering a measured defense of the organization.

“Millions of millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood,” Trump said on the CNN debate stage in Houston. “I would defund it because I’m pro-life, but millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.”

The billionaire front-runner’s rivals have repeatedly targeted his past statements on abortion, including a 1999 remark when he identified as “pro-choice” despite his distaste for the “concept of abortion.” Last week, Trump, responding to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s bait, refused to dismiss the idea of filing a lawsuit against the senator for running an ad questioning his position.

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It’s not the first time Trump has broken with his fellow Republicans in addressing Planned Parenthood. In August, Trump told CNN, “I would look at the good aspects of it and I would also look because I’m sure they do some things properly and good, good for women, and I would look at that” before he committed to blocking federal funds.

Those remarks drew praise from the organization, which said in a statement back then, “Donald Trump seems to have realized that banning all abortions, shutting down the government, and defunding Planned Parenthood are extreme positions that are way too far outside the mainstream for even him to take.”

But on Friday, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards warned supporters against warming to Trump.

“There would absolutely be no benefit to having Donald Trump as president of the United States for women,” she told CNN. “The danger of a Donald Trump presidency is he would actually end access to health care for millions”