Mostly, it's about the money.
Alabama, Tennessee, North Dakota, and Mississippi are among the latest to impose unprecedented restrictions on women's access to abortion services. All told, in the first three months of this year, 694 provisions related to reproductive health have come before state legislatures, more than half of them involving abortion restrictions.
We are seeing a similar surge of opposition to science education: in Missouri, Montana, Colorado, and Oklahoma, legislators have introduced bills intended to smuggle creationism and religious dogma into public school classrooms. And the Virginia attorney general is seeking to revive anti-sodomy laws: the way the law is written, that also means no oral sex in the Old Dominion, not even for married straight couples.
But public opinion polls do not suggest that Americans as a whole are trending toward support of this type of legislation. On abortion, the most noticeable feature of the survey data is how flat the trend lines are over the past decade. If anything, they show a very modest drift away from the hardline criminalization position on abortion and a shoring-up of support for Roe v Wade (now at around 70%, per Gallup and Pew). Studies also indicate that support for school-sponsored prayer is on the decline. The fairly dramatic, leftward shift in attitudes toward gay rights is well-established. And the re-election of President Obama – portrayed by the hard right as the epitome of everything wrong with America – should count for something.
Consider North Carolina. On the national stage, the state is as purple as it gets, with nearly 50-50 results in 2008 and 2012. So what brought on the red tide in the state capitol? A few years ago, Art Pope, a wealthy businessman with a far right political vision, decided to, in effect, buy the the state government. He invested millions of dollars in political campaigns, established thinktanks, and funded fellowships. Now, it's payday: North Carolina presently has an extremely conservative legislature and an extremely conservative governor, whose agenda includes the privatization of schools, an end to early education, and elimination of the state's income and corporate tax rates.
Oh, and the governor has just appointed Art Pope the state budget director. That's like the putting the man who wants to burn your house down in charge of fire prevention.
Of course, money can talk for liberal causes, too. It just happens that conservatives are getting more targeted political funding, and they have tended to invest it where it gets the biggest political bang: in the statehouses.
. . .
Katherine Stewart is the author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children" (PublicAffairs). Follow her on Twitter @kathsstewart.