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Black Monday: 6 Key Questions Answered

The size and scale of yesterday's protests against the proposed abortion law, as well as the strong emotions on both sides, has placed Poland's ruling party between a rock and a hard place.

How did the whole thing start though? What could happen next? And what is public opinion like in the country? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered in today's article. 

What sparked the protests?

At present, abortions are only allowed in Poland when there is severe foetal abnormality, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. A new law that would remove those exceptions is currently making its way through parliament. 

Contrary to what many people believe, the new abortion law is not the brainchild of the PiS political party nor the Polish church. As the Guardian points out, it was instead drafted by hardline conservative advocacy group Ordo Iuris. It was then submitted by the Stop Abortion coalition as a “citizens’ initiative” – a petition considered by parliament once it has received more than 100,000 signatures. This particular motion was backed by a massive 450,000 signatures. 

When the proposal was voted on in Parliament it received enough votes to get past the first reading stage, mainly thanks to votes from PiS and Kukiz 15. Some politicians from other parties also backed the new laws, while the Polish church has been very vocal in its support.

How big were the protests?

The scale of yesterdays protests, which was in the hundreds of thousands (even millions if you include those who dressed in black or supported #czarnyprotest online), was quite remarkable.

Warsaw's main square was packed to the rim with 30,000 people, while in Wroclaw an enormous 20,000 showed up on the Rynek – almost double the amount of people per head of population compared to Poland's capital. There were also huge protests at other major cities as well as smaller ones. The level of participation is all the more remarkable given the short time involved and the bad weather across the country.

Smaller protests also took place in a number of cities across Europe. 

Crowds at yesterday's protests in Warsaw (left) and Krakow (right)

How many people support the new abortion law?

According to a recent opinion poll, only 11% of the country back a complete ban on abortion. The rest of the people sampled in the poll either expressed their wish for the current rules to apply or for them to be liberalised further. 

What has the media reaction been like?

The story was included in the top 5 positions of the major headlines across many international news networks Including France 24, CNN, Euronews, BBC World News and Russia Today. Al Jazeera's English channel even dedicated 30 minutes to the topic in their debating show 'The Stream'. 

The protests were also widely covered by the international press. 

Here in Poland the protests obviously dominated the airwaves, although the reporting of the event and the day's news predictably varied depending on the news network.

Private news network TVN24 honed on the protests in great detail, while many presenters on their sister stations dawned black. Meanwhile, Poland's state broadcaster TVP did their best to play down #czarnyponiedzalek and simultaneously highlight the smaller scale pro-life protests that took place yesterday. The protests didn't even make it to the number one slot, as the public news outlet chose to run with a story on the constitutional tribunal instead.

Meanwhile websites such as Fronda, Telewizja Republika, wpolityce.pl and niezalezna.pl continued the media war against #czarnyprotest. Two main areas of attack were the use of edited Polska Walcząca symbols on placards and an attack on police in Poznan. 

In contrast, the likes of natemat.pl and Gazeta Wyborcza offered articles strongly supporting #czarnyprotest

What has the government's response been?

Speaking on RMF FM Radio yesterday, Poland's Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, appeared to belittle the protesters by uttering the words: “Let them have fun” and “They should go ahead if they think there are no bigger problems in Poland.” Earlier today on TVN24 Waszczykowski also branded the protesters' slogans as "silly" and added that the amount of people involved was "marginal". 

PiS' Krystyna Pawłowicz went further with her criticism, posing the question "Fans of killing children, why do you take your kids to a protest defending the right to kill?"

However, deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki spoke slightly more diplomatically in his interview on Radio Zet, reportedly stating that "no one in PiS is behind plans to punish women who want an abortion, for example as a result of rape." Jaki's comments were nonetheless outweighed by the strong emotions expressed by other party members.

What does it mean for the government?

The energy generated by the #czarnyprotest movement, as well as PiS' dip below 30% in recent opinion polls, will almost certainly have the government questioning their next move behind closed doors. That is something they could probably do without, especially when you consider that the new abortion law was not specifically their own idea in the first place. 

Since coming into power roughly a year ago, PiS has enjoyed a consistently healthy support in various opinion polls – despite large scale protests against their plans to change the way the constitutional court operates. The Polish government's 500+ child benefit program, which has given struggling families access to a much needed income stream, has played a huge role in maintaining the party's popularity.

A recent opinion poll put PiS at 29%, triggering some political commentators into claiming the party's popularity had already peaked. Such talk does appear to be a bit premature. Even so, the recent fall in support has coincided with the recent protests and PiS could risk further fuelling the fire by pushing the new abortion law through.

Tearing up the new abortion bill is anything but a magic bullet however, as that entails consequences for PiS too. The party work closely together with the church and blocking the new abortion law could see the ties in that relationship severed somewhat. Some of the political group's more conservative members will also find it tough to accept, even if the iron fist of Kaczynski demands it happen. There is also the possibility that PiS could try to wager with the church and offer them something else in return, such as an end to Sunday trading (which is already in the pipeline).

A compromise solution, whereby only one or two of the exceptions allowing abortion would be removed, is also on the table. However the #czarnyprotest movement would likely be unimpressed by such a move. 

So no matter what the government decide to do, they will inevitably run into some kind of problem. Just how big will it be though? Only time will tell …

About Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans
The founder and editor of Wroclaw Uncut, Gregor has been running the website since its inception in 2012. A Wroclawian for almost 10 years, Gregor writes on a wide variety of topics including, food & drink, nightlife, local news and politics. He is also a regular guest on Radio Ram's Sunday lunch programme.