The women's movement will defend its friends and go after its enemies in the 1980 elections, the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) said today.

Eleanor Smeal told a cheering opening session of the annual NOW convention that "we are leading a political movement that is never going to be underestimated again." The coming year will be a turning point in the drive to obtain the three states needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, she said.

"When a presidential candidate makes a speech anywhere in this country we will be there. . .And we will demand not only lip service but action," she said. "They will never wonder again, 'What do these people want, anyway?'"

An estimated 3,000 delegates, most wearing the NOW colors of green and white, repeatedly chanted "Three more states!" and "ERA! ERA!" They cheered when Smeal promised that NOW will notice who its friends are when Congress votes on a pending petition to get an anti-abortion constitutional amendment out of committee. NOW is against the amendment.

"Each one of those courageous congresspeople will be defended by a strong women's movement," she said. "We're going to stop the right wing from exploiting womens issues once and for all. They're going to wish they never took us on."

Earlier, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. once again came very close to formally announcing his candidacy for president in 1980. "There's only one way to stop nuclear power, and that's to elect me president, because that's exactly what I'll do," he told a Friday NOW gathering.

He said later that he is still in "an aggressive exploratory phase" and will wait until President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) make formal announcements. He said, however that his announcement does not depend on what they do.

NOW leaders had voted to exclude all presidential hopefuls from the gathering. But Brown "called and said he was going to drop by to greet us," according to NOW press secretary Nancy Thompson.

Brown got a mixed reception at first, but the scattered boos turned to applause when he said the women's movement "is one of the leading elements of the change in American Olitical chemistry. . .You are part of the future, and I hope we can be part of it together."

Smeal told the opening session today that the women's movement has scored significant political gains. Noting that moves to rescind ratification of the ERA had failed in 12 states because of strong NOW action, she said: "We met the opposition head-on and we won. We have stopped the recision drive."

Once ERA is passed, she said, America's women's movement will look outward. "I pray we can get out own house in order so we can reach out in an international movement for women's rights," she said. "The ERA is only the beginning."

NOW, with more than 110,000 members, is going to lead the movement for progressive rights in America, Smeal said. "We're not going to stand by while others deny lesbians and gays their rights and exploit them for their own fascist ends," she said.

References to Pope John Paul II brought hisses from the audience. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said he had been invited to the White House reception for the pope today. "I mentioned that because I want you to know that I've got my priorities straight," he said.

Smeal said she also had been invited to that reception. "I am proud to say that a majority of the Catholics in the nation support birth control and reproductive rights. We are the mainstream," she said.

Smeal is unopposed in her bid for a second term as NOW'S president. Election of other officers and the passage of resolutions on political and social issues will wind up the conference Sunday.