The Senate narrowly defeated a measure by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt that would have allowed employers to refuse to cover health services if they had moral objections. The vote to table the measure – an amendment to the transportation bill – was 51-48, with retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) joining most Democrats to oppose the amendment.  Three Democrats – Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania – joined Republicans in support of the amendment.  Scott Brown voted for the bill and Brown’s opponent, Elizabeth Warren, blasted out a statement Thursday saying the Senate “did the right thing in stopping Scott Brown and his extreme amendment that threatened health care coverage for women and families.”

Blunt vowed that Thursday’s vote won’t be the end of the debate over the contraception coverage rule – and predicted that the Supreme Court might have the final say by striking it down.  “This issue will not go away unless the administration takes it away by giving people of faith those First Amendment protections” to refuse to cover services if they have moral or religious objections, Blunt said during the floor debate.

Mitt Romney fumbled a question from an Ohio reporter Wednesday by seeming to say he opposed the Blunt amendment, only to later say that he misunderstood the question – was firmly in the religious freedom camp Thursday.  President Barack Obama’s campaign weighed in, too, posting on its Tumblr account a mock permission slip from an employer granting a female employee access to contraceptives.

A week later, Republicans are ready to see the issue go away.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who regrets her vote for the Blunt Amendment, is now willing to say on the record her party is badly off track by even “having a conversation” about contraception access. Even Blunt himself told Sahil Kapur yesterday that the upper chamber is likely to shift its attention elsewhere. “You know, I think we’ve got as many votes as I think there were to get on that,” Senate GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt told TPM Tuesday afternoon after a weekly Capitol briefing. “I think the House side may take some further action. That debate will go on for a long time, though I don’t know that there’s anything else to happen in the Senate in the near future.”