Backers of the Equal Rights Amendment made it the first order of business for the new Congress but say the real battleground for its adoption is in the state legislatures where it died in 1982.

"Our foremothers never gave up on the right to vote until we won, and we will never give up on the Equal Rights Amendment until we have won," Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, told a Capitol Hill news conference."We are certainly not giving up," said Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., who was joined by 128 other House members in co-sponsoring the ERA as House Joint Resolution 1 before the new Congress as it convened on Tuesday.

Yard said the campaign for passage would concentrate on state legislatures, where she said women would need to control one-third of the seats, about twice the share they now hold, to ensure the measure's ratification.

"It's shocking to me that on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, women are still not in it," Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said.

The nation celebrated the bicentennial of the signing and ratification of the Constitution in 1987 and 1988.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit sex discrimination, came closest to passage nearly seven years ago, having been approved by Congress and 35 state legislatures. The proposed amendment still needed approval by three more state legislatures when time for its ratification expired on June 30, 1982.

It was re-introduced in Congress in 1983, 1985 and 1987 but did not win the two-thirds support needed to be submitted to the states again. The Republican Party has withdrawn its support for the proposed amendment. And President-elect Bush, who once supported the ERA, also has changed his mind.

But Yard said she remained hopeful that such a proposal would be adopted before the end of the century.