The angry battle over ratification of the Equal Rights Amendement (ERA) to the US Constitution has intensified in Illinois. The flak began to fly thicker then ever when the conservative Stop-ERA leader , Phyllis Schlafy, found the ERA drive gathering impressive political steam under the determined leadership of Eleanor Smeal, president of the 125,000 -member National Organization for Women (NOW).
Not only did Mrs. Smeal move from her headquarters in Washington to Illinois to mastermind the campaign against the Schlafly forces, but she also brought with her full ERA endorsement from major labor unions, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, and from scores of other national organizations.
Then came a barrage of editorials from Illinois newspapers, reacting favorably to the Smeal appeal.
The Chicago Sun-Times backed ERA as an economic necessity and concluded that its ratification "would affirm a national commitment toward equality."
Mrs. Schlafly's reply to the ERA momentum came in a series of allegations resulting in an FBI investigation into charges that NOW workers have attempted to bribe Illinois legislators into voting for the amendment.
When ERA forces postponed a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives from May 14 to May 21 (and now to May 28, or perhaps even to next November), Mrs. Schlafly told the Monitor that legislators favoring the amendment wanted more time because "They don't have the votes unless they buy some or unless they extort some."
The Stop-ERA leader then accused her opponents of having Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne make "threats of firing city employees."
NOW leader Smeal angrily denies that her organization has used any illegal tactics in Illinois, considered a key state in the push for nationwide ratification before the June, 1982, deadline.
Mrs. Smeal points out that the suffragists were charged with bribery in the 1840s and that "our opponents have continually charged us with breaking the law."
Both women have pledged to keep on fighting.