Story highlights

Ben Carson excused Donald Trump's comment that women who undergo abortions should face punishment

Carson said Trump hadn't "had a chance to think about" the question when he was asked Wednesday

Washington CNN  — 

Ben Carson excused Donald Trump’s comment that women who undergo abortions should face “some form of punishment” – and his subsequent reversal – saying Trump hadn’t had time to think the issue through.

“Bear in mind, I don’t believe that he was warned that that question was coming, and I don’t think he really had a chance to really think about it,” Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and former GOP presidential contender, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.

“That happens very frequently, and you know, what you develop with experience is how to answer that in a way that is not definitive,” Carson said. “You know how politicians are. He has not really learned that – he’s not a politician.”

Trump’s comment came in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. He then backtracked in a statement released hours later, saying that only those who perform abortions should be punished.

Carson, who has endorsed Trump, said that after that interview, Trump had time to huddle with his advisers and “come up with a more rational and informed type of answer.”

For his part, Carson said he agreed with Trump’s second position, that abortion providers, not women who undergo the procedure, should face penalties if abortion is outlawed one day.

“I agree that the woman is the victim. She’s traumatized emotionally and in many other ways that’s problematic. In terms of who should be punished, that woman has already been punished. But if it has become illegal, then obviously the person performing the abortion is the person who is breaking the law, and a determination needs to be made in terms of it that is a civil penalty or something more severe,” Carson said.

He also criticized Republican presidential candidates Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for all backing away from their pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee during a CNN town hall Tuesday night.

He said doing so threatens to “destroy the unity of the party.”

“I’m sure that a lot of people on the other side are absolutely delighted to see that. I mean, they couldn’t wish for this in their wildest dreams. But at some point, the Republicans have got to stop their self-destructive behavior,” Carson said.