Voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected ballot measures Tuesday that could have led to sweeping bans of abortion, and Washington became only the second state — after Oregon — to offer terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide.
In California, exit polls suggested a close race on a high-profile measure that would ban gay marriage — the first time such a vote has taken place in state where such unions are legal. Three other states seemed headed toward enacting measures that would curtail the rights of same-sex couples.
For the abortion rights movement, it was a day of relief and celebration.
The Colorado measure, which was defeated soundly, would have defined life as beginning at conception. Its opponents said it could lead to the outlawing of some types of birth control as well as abortion.
The South Dakota measure would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother. A tougher version, without the rape and incest exceptions, lost in 2006. Antiabortion activists thought the modifications would win approval, but the margin of defeat was similar, about 55 percent to 45 percent of the vote.
Elsewhere, the marijuana reform movement won two prized victories, with Massachusetts voters decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug and Michigan joining 12 other states in allowing use of pot for medical purposes.
Henceforth, people caught in Massachusetts with an ounce or less of pot will no longer face criminal penalties. Instead, they'll forfeit the marijuana and pay a $100 civil fine.
The Michigan measure will allow severely ill patients to register with the state and legally buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss and other symptoms.
Of the 153 measures at stake nationwide, the most momentous was the proposed constitutional amendment in California that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Similar measures had prevailed in 27 states before Tuesday's elections, but none were in California's situation — with thousands of gay couples already married following a state Supreme Court ruling in May.