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Fifteen Equal Rights Amendment supporters chained to the doorway...

By
KAREN M. MAGNUSON

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Fifteen Equal Rights Amendment supporters chained to the doorway of the Senate chamber were cut from their bonds and ousted from the Capitol Monday in a surprise, pre-dawn raid by state officers.

One of seven women on a hunger strike for ERA collapsed and a second fainted by her hospital bed in the 21st day of their fast. In Chicago, Stop-ERA leader Phyllis Schlafly said the amendment will not be ratified by its June 30 deadline and will never again be a serious issue, even if re-introduced into Congress.

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The so-called 'chain gang' returned the Capitol later in the day when the Senate reconvened, chanting slogans and unfurling an American flag from the gallery. They were silenced by the ERA sponsor, Sen. James Taylor, D-Chicago, who asked them not to demonstrate in the chamber.

Extra guards were posted outside the Senate and House chambers in case the women attempted to re-chain themselves.

Illinois Secretary of State Jim Edgar said he ordered the women removed to prevent them from disrupting the 'routine business' of the statehouse. He said the state fire marshal also was concerned the blocked Senate entrance was a fire hazard.

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The women had been linked to a brass rail outside the chamber since early Thursday to attract attention to the ERA. They unchained themselves for food, periodic exercise and to go to the bathroom.

Sonia Johnson, 46, of Sterling Falls, Va., one of seven women in Springfield fasting in support of the ERA, collapsed in the Capitol and was rushed to a hospital. It was her third emergency trip to the hospital since the fast began.

'She told us this morning she was having a hard time holding her head up,' said Sister Maureen Fiedler, another hunger striker. 'I think she just reached a point where she could not sit up straight.'

Another hunger striker, Shirley Wallace of Fort Collins, Colo., fainted next to Ms. Johnson's emergency room bed. Doctors blamed both collapses on low blood pressure.

Ms. Johnson, the unofficial leader of the group, is the oldest and - at about 100 pounds -- the lightest of the seven fasters. She said Sunday she has lost about 21 pounds since the fast began May 18.

Dr. Gregory Huss, who examined the fasters, said both women were suffering from a form of dehydration which leads to low blood pressure. Low blood pressure caused them to faint, he said.

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He said he is concerned the two might go into shock.

Both women's blood pressure was about 80-60, he said, compared to an average 120-80. He also said their level of potassium and sodium was low and recommended they add sodium to their diets. The two fasters already take a potassium supplement.

'I think their condition is what you would expect for someone who has been without food for 21 days. From a medical standpoint, their health is suffering somewhat,' Huss said.

Huss said there is some danger the lining of their stomachs could rupture from taking the potassium supplement without eating.

Mrs. Schlafly, asked in Chicago what her group would do if ERA fails and is presented to Congress again, said, 'I don't think we'll need to do anything.

'They don't have two-thirds in either house of Congress. And starting from scratch, they wouldn't get more than five states' to ratify even if Congress approved the amendment, she said.

State officials said last week the 'chain gang' could remain linked to the chamber 'as long as they behave.' But Edgar said at a news conference he changed his mind because he had not thought the women would stay.

He said he did not want the group to be chained to the entrance when the Senate reconvened after a weekend recess.

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Edgar said at 3:45 a.m. CDT he ordered 20 secretary of state's police officers and 10 security guards to remove the protestors.

The women, who call themselves the Grass Roots Group of Second Class Citizens, said they were awakened by police shortly after 4 a.m. without warning. They said they were told to leave or they would be physically removed.

'It was extremely sneaky,' said Anne Casey-Elden. 'When I woke up and looked over to the staircase, there was a sea of police. I re-chained myself and moved over to the group.'

The women said they immediately locked their chains, moved into a huddle, linked arms and chanted, 'We shall not be moved.' The police cut their chains and locks with bolt cutters, they said.

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