The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote late Thursday morning on a contentious amendment devised to alter a portion of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law to exempt religiously-affiliated situations such as Roman Catholic charities, hospitals and universities from a mandate requiring employers to provide free contraception coverage in  health insurance plans.

Debate on the Blunt Amendment, named after the Republican Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt who introduced it, began on Wednesday. The measure, which has been framed as so-called conscience amendment, was devised in response to what became a politically-charged policy devised by the Obama administration that mandates religiously-affiliated employers to provide a service that some claim is a violation of the religious liberty.

This bill would just simply say that those health care providers don't have to follow that mandate if it violates their faith principles, stated an early February press release from Blunt. This is about the First Amendment. It's about religious beliefs. It's not about any one issue.

In an attempt to appease conservatives and religious institutions, last month President Obama announced that religious employers would not be mandated to provide birth control coverage. Instead, individuals seeking those services will be able to obtain it directly -- and free of charge -- from health insurers.

Blunt initially tacked the amendment onto a must-pass $109 billion transportation bill, although it was eventually defeated. Although the legislation was stalled, on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he was advancing the measure to a vote at the behest of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

My colleague Sen. McConnell -- the Senate minority leader -- has insisted this measure get a vote on the Senate floor before we can move ahead with this jobs bill, Reid said.

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