WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The U.S. Senate this morning voted down an amendment that would allow employers to opt out of paying for health care coverage of procedures that violate their religious beliefs.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, rolled back Barack Obama’s invasive Health and Human Services mandate that employers insure contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs with no co-pay. While the health care reform law exempts churches, it would force religious institutions such as hospitals and universities to underwrite products that violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

The Blunt Amendment would not compel an employer to fund any procedure to which it had a “moral objection.” It failed 51-48.

“Today, 51 senators, led by Sen. Harry Reid, sacrificed the Constitutional right of religious liberty on the altar of the Obama administration’s radical big-government agenda,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com. “They turned a deaf ear to the very real religious and moral objections of millions of Americans and the First Amendment rights of all.”

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told LifeSiteNews.com he was “outraged” by the vote. “Make no mistake, the Senate vote was not about contraception but about the right of people of faith to be able to live out the values of their faith free from government coercion.”

Three Democrats – Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and retiring Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska – voted for the measure.  Casey and Manchin face tough re-election battles in 2012.

Olympia Snowe, a retiring Republican from Maine, voted against it. “With respect to the Blunt amendment, I think it’s much broader than I could support,” Snowe told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday.

Blunt’s motion offered broader protections than Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” extending conscience rights to private employers. Sen. Rubio’s legislation would protect only religious institutions. Snowe said she supports Rubio’s bill.

Blunt’s motion was heavily supported by the National Right to Life Committee, the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and other pro-life organizations.

“Support from Republican Senators ranging from pro-life Senator Kelly Ayotte to pro-abortion Senator Susan Collins showed that this is not about women’s health but about whether the government can violate religious liberties,” Perkins told LifeSiteNews.

Senate Democrats savaged the bill and its supporters.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, said,  “The Republicans want to take us forward to the dark ages again…when women were property that you could easily control, even trade if you wanted to. It’s appalling we are having this debate in the 21st century.”

Blunt wrote in a press release in February that the measure, which was offered as an amendment to a federal highway bill, simply said “health care providers don’t have to follow that mandate if it violates their faith principles. This is about the First Amendment.”

But Barbara Boxer of California – one of the most outspoken advocates of the HHS mandate, told MSNBC’s viewers, “They’re just radical and they’re going after women’s health, and that’s the truth.” Boxer called this measure “a radical amendment” that ”would not only take away the ability of women to get contraception through their insurance but it would threaten every single essential healthcare service, every single preventive healthcare service, if your employer or your insurance company had a moral objection.”

This narrow defeat is no time to back down on religious freedom, Perkins told LifeSiteNews.com. “The president and Congress need to wake up and realize that they have run into an immovable wall of principle that religious liberties are still in fact fundamental rights in this country,” he said. “No political machinations they attempt will surmount the unshakeable religious and moral convictions of those of us opposing this government mandate.”

Dr. Land also promised to fight on. “We will continue to press this battle for freedom to the very end. We call on all people who love liberty to join us in this must-win struggle against government tyranny.”

You can view the final roll call vote here.