The US state of Ohio voted Tuesday to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution, while the Democratic governor of Kentucky won reelection, in results that boosted President Joe Biden ahead of the 2024 White House race.
The "yes" vote victory in Ohio's referendum, known as Issue 1, inserts the right in the Republican-run state's constitution for residents to "make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions," including on abortion.
A watch party of "yes" campaigners exploded with joy as the projected results were announced in the midwestern state's capital Columbus, with many erupting into tears, screams and hugs.
"I don't even have the words to express it," 27-year-old campaigner Summer McClain told AFP, while other organizers broke into cries of "Abortion is health care," "Abortion is a winning issue" and "Your body, your rights."
Reproductive rights were also in the spotlight in the Kentucky governor's race as the conservative-leaning southern state was projected to re-elect incumbent Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who made abortion rights a key issue in his battle against Republican Daniel Cameron.
In Virginia, Republican hopes for legislative wins that would allow them to tighten abortion restrictions appeared all but dashed as Democrats seemed poised to take several key state General Assembly seats.
Biden celebrated the Ohio result, saying that voters "rejected attempts by MAGA Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans that put the health and lives of women in jeopardy," referring to his likely 2024 opponent Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again."
"This extreme and dangerous agenda is out of step with the vast majority of Americans," he added.
The president, who faces grim polling numbers and harsh criticism over his handling of Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza, pointed to Tuesday's election outcomes as a galvanizing moment for his own re-election campaign.
"Voters vote. Polls don't. Now let's go win next year," he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
- Fierce battle over abortion -
Protect Women Ohio, the organization spearheading the state's "no" campaign to reject an abortion rights guarantee said, "Our hearts are broken" over Tuesday's loss.
"But rest assured: the pro-life movement is more united than ever," the group posted on social media. "We stand ready during this unthinkable time to advocate for women and the unborn, just as we have always done."
Before the polls closed in Ohio, Vivek Ramaswamy, a fringe Republican presidential candidate, told AFP he was against the measure to explicitly guarantee abortion rights in the state charter.
"The reason I'm voting no... is that I'm pro-life," Ramaswamy said. If the amendment were adopted, "I don't think that's a good move for the country," he added.
By contrast, Jill, 43, who preferred not to give her last name, said she voted "yes" -- "as a woman, to protect my reproductive rights."
America's politics watchers had their eyes on Ohio, where activists on both sides of the reproductive rights issue have waged a fierce, multi-million-dollar campaign.
The referendum came 17 months after the Supreme Court struck down the national right to abortion, paving the way for some states to completely outlaw the practice, even in cases of rape or incest.
In Ohio, the reversal of the landmark Roe v Wade decision triggered a state law to ban all abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the womb -- usually around six weeks of gestation, before many people even know they are pregnant.
The so-called trigger law sparked a national outcry last year, when a 10-year-old rape survivor was forced to travel to neighboring Indiana for an abortion.
Erin, a 45-year-old who works in a brewery and preferred not to give her full name, noted how the two questions on the ballot -- Ohio also voted in favor of legalizing marijuana -- are issues she feels passionately about.
"We need to show up," she told AFP outside a polling station.
Over the past year, multiple states including California, Kansas and Kentucky have voted to preserve abortion rights or voted down efforts to restrict them.