Actually, there's a good number of reasons. For starters, banning abortion has been a top ticket item for the Republicans ever since Roe V. Wade became a campaign issue. It's just never been a Top 10 issue for voters overall (most voters have as their top issues Jobs, Jobs, Better Wages for Jobs, Better Education, Education That Leads to Jobs, and Not Having Anybody Pay For Anything Anymore).
The second reason there's been a recent surge in the anti-abortion legislation has been that Tea Party "revolution" the Far Right kicked up in response to Obama's 2008 win. While the Tea Party supposedly formed over libertarian issues such as opposing government-controlled health care reform, in practice the Far Right that benefited from Tea Party support has been pushing a harsh socio-religious agenda and ignoring economic issues outside of massive tax cuts to corporations.
But what got me quizzical is "why now?" Why are the Republicans - at least at the state level - going batshit crazy trying to get restrictive legislation that would essentially block any abortion, and doing so in such heavy-handed ways?
It's not that the courts are suddenly more pro-fetus than ever before. Wisconsin's anti-abortion legislation just got held up by the courts already, and there's a certain guarantee that the Ohio, Texas, and North Carolina anti-abortion laws (North Carolina's lege hid their anti-abortion bill in a motorcycle safety bill!) will get blocked by the courts as well.
And, here's the thing that gets me, it's not like the Republicans ever really pushed this hard against abortion when they really had the opportunities to do so. I mean, look at the states that had a Republican-controlled legislature for the last two or three decades. Outside of the occasional attempt to restrict funding and access - and taking on partial-birth abortions as a method sure to turn off even pro-abortion supporters - I don't recall any of those states making a major push before 2011. I live here in Florida, where the Republicans have basically been in control since Jeb Bush was governor in 1998 onward: I don't recall any major anti-abortion fights (and still haven't, probably because of other reasons I'll get into later). Texas has been pretty much all-GOP since Dubya was governor in 1994... until this year, not a peep.
The thing I figured out, pretty much around 2006, was that while the Republican Party talked tough on the abortion issue, they really didn't want to vote it out of existence. Partly because it would get rid of their most fanatical voting base: the pro-fetus voters are almost uniformly single-issue voters, and uniformly GOP. Get rid of that as a rallying issue and you'll see the support wither. But also because if the Republicans did make a major push against abortion, it would not only rile up and unite the Far Left voters (who've been for the most part disorganized compared to their Far Right numbers) but also alienate the more moderate voters who normally wouldn't care.
It's one of the paradoxes of being human: we're against something unless we gotta be for it. Most Americans would consider themselves pro-life in that they don't want to see a fetus get aborted: most would never consider it, they'd want to raise the child or see it raised by an adoptive family. However, most Americans also know that there are cases - rape especially, also the health of the mother - where abortion is an honest option. (This is why the Far Right tries to dismiss rape as an issue nowadays, they're trying to degrade rape as an exception.) If the GOP went after abortion access even in cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother, there would have been a huge cry from voters who'd otherwise not even think of abortion and those voters would have switched to more pro-choice candidates.
I'd thought this was the real reason why, when the Republicans had all three branches of the federal government - Dubya in the White House, control of the House and for the most part the Senate, 5-4 control of the Supreme Court - they barely ever looked at abortion as an issue. They went after partial birth in 2003, but then... nada. Cricket chirp noises.
But now, ever since 2010 when the Far Right used Tea Party outrage to retake the U.S. House and a good number of state governments, there's been a massive push.
Part of it is due to Reason Two I gave earlier: the Tea Party movement brought into power elected officials who were far more wingnut than previous officials, and more likely to push the agenda in spite of the electoral hazards. But this doesn't explain all the normally standard-issue Republicans suddenly backing these pushes (and fear of getting primaried out isn't that high a reason: there's too many seats involved and even Norquist doesn't have that kind of reach). This is where Reason Three comes into play: the underlying fear by the GOP at both the state and federal level that their party is running out of time.
Look again to Texas. Like I noted earlier, Texas has been GOP for decades, they've been socially conservative on a lot of issues for far longer. But the population has been trending further Hispanic, (and not even due to illegals, simple birth rates are what's happening) enough that even the massive gerrymandering efforts to hinder Hispanic voter responsiveness won't protect Republican incumbents. And Hispanics, despite being conservative on some issues, tend to vote for Democrats because they agree with Dems on health care and education. (the shift in Hispanic population is one of the reasons California's gone Blue State). The painful thing: Hispanics may be prominently pro-life, but they still vote Democrat because health care and education and immigration are bigger concerns. Texas may not shift to Democratic control by 2014 (or even by 2016), but sooner rather than later the Democrats will have solid control of Texas at a national, state and maybe even local levels. Texas has an even better chance of going Purple (like Florida and Pennsylvania) this 2014, which still hurts the wingnut agenda.
The other states like Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina are under threat of losing Republican control as well (I'd throw in Florida, but for some reason we're not pursuing a heavy pro-fetus agenda in this state. I think the heavy Hispanic population is already a deterrent), less due to Hispanic voters and more due to the GOP voting base - angry elderly white guys - dying off and getting replaced by Millennial voters who are more left-leaning on a lot of issues than even previous generations at their age. Those states are not as solidly pro-Republican as the party would admit: North Carolina in particular is showing major signs of buyers' remorse letting the wingnuts take control, and the next election cycle might see a major purge (unless the voter ID laws they're bound to push effectively cut off voter turnout). Walker might skip running for Wisconsin governor for the excuse of focusing on 2016 and the White House (conveniently avoiding the embarrassment of likely losing re-election in 2014).
It's this reason - the Republican Party as it knows itself is doomed by basic demographics and the march of time - that I think the Far Right has gone overboard this year pushing their pro-fetus, kill-Planned-Parenthood, fuck-women's-health agendas. They may not get another chance like this again. Even though this may accelerate the Republicans' loss of control by alienating more voters than ever before, they'll do it. They have the wingnut will to do it now: and they only have two more election cycles (2014 and 2016) to do anything about it before the population really does turn against them.
For what it's worth: just don't vote Republican, okay? Please? Thanks.