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The Senate has tabled the conscience exemption to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, voting down an amendment which would have protected private employers' rights to oppose offering services to their employees that they believe to be morally objectionable. The amendment, attached to a transportation bill, was put forth by Roy Blunt, a pro-life Republican senator from Missouri, and was in response to the recent controversy involving the President and the Catholic Church in regards to an HHS decision that would have mandated church-based organizations to provide coverage of contraception within their employee health benefits. AP reports:

"The Senate has defeated a Republican effort to roll back President Barack Obama's policy on contraception insurance coverage.

The measure sponsored by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, was defeated 51-48. The measure, an amendment to a pending transportation bill, would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the president's health care law they found morally objectionable. That would have included the law's requirement that insurers cover the costs of birth control.

Republicans said it was a matter of freedom of religion; Democrats said it was an assault on women's rights and could be used to cancel virtually any part of the law."

POLITICO reports that the 51-48 vote was largely along party lines with the exception of Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania joining Republicans in support of the Amendment. Outgoing Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe joined Democrats.

"Most of us probably assumed that if religious liberty were ever seriously challenged in this country, we could always expect a robust bipartisan defense of it at least from within the Congress itself,” POLITICO reports Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But unfortunately that’s not the situation we find ourselves in."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ignited a media firestorm Wednesday, when he first said he opposed the amendment during an interview on ONN, only to have his campaign quickly email reporters to say that Romney did indeed support the amendment, but "the way the question was asked was confusing.”

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