Maureen Reagan's challenge

America's drive toward equal rights for women could gain impetus from the forthcoming Reagan campaign even though doubts were raised by the platform controversy on the issue. Reasons for hope emerged as rights advocates, including Mr. Reagan's own daughter Maureen, made their concerns plain to him during the convention, and he responded with a statement of support.

If he follows through on it as a campaigner, he could help Americans understand how to reduce discrimination against women without waiting for the proposed ERA.

For example, he could spell out some of the federal and state laws he believes would address remaining areas of discrimination more speedily and sensitively than court decisions based on an Equal Rights Amendment. He need not wait to be president to start fulfilling his pledge to seek out and correct discriminatory federal laws; the US Civil Rights Commission has already cited hundreds of them as a reason for ratifying the ERA.

As for the platform's equal rights plank, which abandons the party's long support of the ERA, he calls it the most comprehensive plank the GOP has ever had. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, a staunch ERA supporter, says the plank's proposals do offer means for progress but not if the party and its candidates simply leave them there without going to bat for them. Of course, not only Republicans could come to the aid of the republic by speaking and acting effectively on rights.

Maureen Reagan says she will continue her fight for the ERA even as she campaigns for her father. "Anyone who wants to stop me will have to outlive me, " she adds. She ruefully smiles and recalls she has been trying to convince her father to back the ERA for years. But she makes the best of the platform bu suggesting that a simple endorsement of ERA would not prompt as much action as the present elaboration of issues that must be addressed now with or without the ERA.

"I don't think equality is a debatable issue," she says with another Reagan smile. "But that's my opinion." It's ours, too. But the GOP convention illustrated that the means to equality are indeed debatable. The point is to be sure not to leave the equality waiting until every debate is settled.

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