SAN FRANCISCO, AUG. 9 -- Asserting that all women owe "a debt" of gratitude to Anita F. Hill, Hillary Clinton today praised the University of Oklahoma law professor for her "courageous testimony" before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year about sexual harassment.

Clinton, an attorney and wife of Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, gave the keynote address today at an American Bar Association luncheon where Hill was honored by the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession.

"All women who care about equality of opportunity, about integrity and morality in the workplace, are in Professor Anita Hill's debt," Clinton said to loud applause from the standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,200 lawyers gathered for the ABA convention here.

Clinton, who chaired the women's commission until last year, said Hill had "transformed consciousness and changed history" by bringing the often-hidden issue of sexual harassment to public attention.

Last October, Hill testified in nationally televised hearings before the Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him in various federal posts a decade earlier. Thomas denied the allegations and was confirmed by a 52 to 48 Senate vote.

Clinton's verbal embrace of Hill and the crowd's enthusiastic response reflected the continuing political potency of the Hill-Thomas controversy. Many women were outraged by the testimony and the conduct of the confirmation hearings, particularly at the tough questioning of Hill by some Republican senators.

Two Democratic candidates for the Senate -- Lynn Yeakel of Pennsylvania and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois -- launched their campaigns in anger over Hill's treatment.

While a few ABA members criticized the organization for honoring Hill, far more were enthusiastic. The awards luncheon was a sellout, with about 1,000 people turned away. At other appearances here, Hill has been mobbed by admirers seeking autographs, some calling her a hero.

Hill, one of five women to receive an award today, said the issue of harassment "exceeds elected politics" and called on other lawyers to educate their colleagues and "look out for potential victims."

In her speech, Clinton also added her voice to the major debate of this convention, a move to put the ABA on record supporting women's right to abortion. A vote is scheduled today.

"We need . . . to protect a woman's right to choose," Clinton said.