Like all middle-aged men, Senate Republicans imagine themselves experts on women’s health, and they plan to continue to fight to eliminate free preventive women’s health services like birth control, even after yesterday’s Blunt amendment vote narrowly failed.

“This fight is not over,” said Senate GOP Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), the author of the amendment that was tabled 51-48 on Thursday. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to protect the rights that make our nation great.”

Though many Republicans would like to give the issue a rest, fearing voter backlash, the GOP can’t easily soft-peddle in this culture war conflagration. And that was clear today on both sides of the Capitol.

“I think it’s important for us to win this issue,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Thursday, echoing the party line that the Obama administration’s requirement that most employer health plans include contraceptive coverage violates religious liberty. Boehner did, however, demur on how exactly he’d like to proceed, even though the House’s version of Blunt’s bill has over 200 cosponsors.

It will be interesting to see if Boehner puts the bill up for a vote. It would in all likelihood pass, and then every GOP member of the House, like every GOP member of the Senate except for Olympia Snowe, would be on the record taking away the rights of all employees and allowing employers to impinge on their religious freedom. Maybe the Senate Republicans are mostly safe, but lots of House members face tough races next year. Does Boehner really want to sell them out like that?

Certainly they can see how Democrats will pounce on this. Elizabeth Warren, challenging Scott Brown for the Senate, released this statement:

Elizabeth believes the Senate did the right thing in stopping Scott Brown and his extreme amendment that threatened health care coverage for women and families. Senator Brown took sides with Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and the right wing of his party, against the people of Massachusetts, who in tough economic times rely on insurance to get the health care they need.

Heck, in the Senate, Harry Reid had to schedule a vote on the amendment for the Republicans. Maybe Nancy Pelosi will do the same, through a motion to recommit. There are definitely ways to get Republicans on the record on this.

Meanwhile, this is a couple days old, but it’s crucial to chart the insinuation of religion into the health care sphere.

A wave of mergers between Roman Catholic and secular hospitals is threatening to deprive women in many areas of the country of ready access to important reproductive services. Catholic hospitals that merge or form partnerships with secular hospitals often try to impose religious restrictions against abortions, contraception and sterilization on the whole system.

This can put an unacceptable burden on women, especially low-income women and those who live in smaller communities where there are fewer health care options. State regulators should closely examine such mergers and use whatever powers they have to block those that diminish women’s access to medical care.

The Affordable Care Act led to – and encouraged – lots of mergers in the health care space. Meaning that the threat of discrimination against women looms larger. Organizations in the business of health care that want to restrict that care on reproductive issues should get out of that business.