Doug Mastriano said in 2019 women who violated proposed abortion ban should be charged with murder

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State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, said in 2019 that women should be charged with murder if they violated his proposed abortion ban.

In an interview with Pennsylvania radio station WITF, Mastriano was pressed about a bill he sponsored that would generally bar abortions when a fetal heartbeat could first be detected, usually around six weeks. Mastriano’s remarks in that interview were previously unreported.

Under his proposed legislation, Mastriano was asked whether a woman who decided to get an abortion at 10 weeks gestation would be charged with murder. Critics of the bill Mastriano backed, and of other "heartbeat bills," say the approximate six-week timeframe is often before many women know they are pregnant.

"OK, let’s go back to the basic question there," Mastriano said. "Is that a human being? Is that a little boy or girl? If it is, it deserves equal protection under the law."

Asked if he was saying yes, they should be charged with murder, Mastriano responded: "Yes, I am."

After the Supreme Court decision in June overturning Roe v. Wade, the future of abortion rights has played prominently on the campaign trail. But few races will prove more important in determining statewide abortion access than the governor's contest in Pennsylvania, where those rights will be heavily influenced by whether Mastriano or his Democratic rival, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, win this fall.

Mastriano has downplayed his past support for stringent abortion restrictions after winning the primary this spring, seeking to paint Shapiro as extreme on the issue while claiming his personal views are "irrelevant" because ultimately the Legislature will write any changes to current state law.

His campaign did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

"My views are kind of irrelevant because I cannot rule by fiat or edict or executive order on the issue of life," Mastriano told the conservative network Real America's Voice in an interview he posted to his Twitter page on Monday. "It’s up to the people of Pennsylvania. So if Pennsylvanians want exceptions, if they want to limit the number of weeks, it’s going to have to come from your legislative body and then to my desk."

Shapiro has said he supports current state law, which bars the procedure after 24 weeks with exceptions. Pennsylvania's Legislature has been under GOP control for years and is likely to still be run by Republicans after this fall's election, making it a strong possibility that Mastriano would be able to sign further restrictions into law should he win this fall.

"Doug Mastriano has said his number one priority is banning abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother — and now, it’s clear he also wants to prosecute women for murder for making personal healthcare decisions," Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro’s campaign, said in a statement. "Mastriano has the most extreme anti-choice position in the country — and there is no limit to how far he would go to take away Pennsylvania women’s freedom."

At last week's Pennsylvania March for Life, Mastriano called the battle over abortion rights "the single most important issue, I think, in our lifetime." In a call last week with the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, reported by WESA, Mastriano said: "We can fulfill and achieve most of our desires in protecting life when we win on eight November," adding he looks forward to signing into law "either [a] heartbeat bill or" other legislation that would restrict the procedure.

Ahead of the May primary, Mastriano expressed no desire to include exceptions for rape or incest in future legislation restricting abortion rights. He also described the saying "my body, my choice" as "ridiculous nonsense." In responding to the potential for Roe's overturning, Mastriano said in a May statement he was hopeful the Supreme Court would reverse "this science-denying genocide."

Elsewhere in that 2019 interview, Mastriano said physicians who performed abortions that would be illegal under his legislation should also be prosecuted for murder, adding abortion "absolutely is" murder.

"So it goes back down to the courts," Mastriano said. "If it’s ruled that that little, little person is a baby, a human being, then that’s murder. And it has to go through the legal procedures."

His legislation did not ultimately advance through the Legislature and came as the state’s governor, Tom Wolf, a Democratic, pledged to veto new abortion restrictions.

Mastriano later said in the WITF interview that all conceived life should be provided with equal protection under the law.

"We know scientifically when there’s conception, that’s one unique individual that never exists again in eternity," he said. "And that person deserves a chance and equal rights before the law."

A CBS News survey from this month found that just 7% of Pennsylvania voters want abortion to be illegal in all cases while 29% said they want it to be illegal in most cases.

Mastriano trails Shapiro significantly in both polling and fundraising. Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Mastriano ahead of the primary, is set to hold a tele-rally on Tuesday to boost his candidacy.

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