When Faye Wattleton preaches, a cadence inherited from two generations of fundamentalist ministers echoes in the rhythmic rise and fall of her voice. "In nineteen eighty-seven we will not be stopped, because we are stronger and healthier and more vigorous than ever," she declares. More than 400 people listen raptly in a Chicago hotel ballroom.

Most of the time, the public sees a cooler Faye Wattleton. Shortly after she became president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America nine years ago, she hired one of those media training firms that teach executives to appear poised and personable on television. Wattleton had vowed that Planned Parenthood would aggressively counteract the gathering assault on legal abortion, an assault that seems to be intensifying as time runs out on the Reagan administration. It's a battle waged on "Donahue" and "Today" as well as in Congress, and it does not do to sound like a preacher on "Donahue" or "Today."

But when she is out among those who already believe, speaking to local Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country -- Chicago's imported her for its 40th-anniversary dinner -- her childhood years in church seep into her delivery. "Let us go forth with a great determination that we will win," she exhorts, her voice surging, "that what we have won we will defend and preserve and what we have not won will come to us in time."

Now her alto quiets dramatically. "We will not rest until it is so, for our work will not be done ..."

Wattleton, 43, is the daughter and granddaughter of ministers whose calling affected not only her oratory but, in ways they could not have foreseen, her articles of faith. She grew up in the Church of God, a denomination whose prohibitions include drinking, dancing, cursing, smoking, movie going, "all the dont's," she says.

"The doctrinaire approach to religion and life -- as I grew up and I became educated and I was able to see a broader world -- became very frightening to me," Wattleton says, recalling the evolution of her college years. "When I saw you had to conduct your life in a certain way or you were unworthy of a life hereafter; when I saw people sometimes weren't able to live up to those standards; when I saw that life isn't always so straightforward -- it had a lot of influence on my coming to hold the views I've come to hold."

TheRev. Ozie Wattleton, who at 72 still preaches at the East Atlanta Church of God, dreamed that her daughter would put her nursing training to godly use as a missionary. And in a way, Faye Wattleton is a missionary. At banquets and at press conferences, on Capitol Hill and on campus, in the flesh and through direct mail, she preaches the message of Planned Parenthood.

That gospel came to include, as Wattleton was arguing from coast to coast this fall, the assertion that Judge Robert Bork's record on "reproductive rights" made him "an unfit candidate" for the Supreme Court. She was not surprised that the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed. This was the first time the 71-year-old organization that Margaret Sanger founded had opposed a judicial appointee, but it was a step consonant with Wattleton's insistence that Planned Parenthood rediscover its activism.

"We will triumph over repression!" Her voice sails ringingly through the hotel chandeliers. "We will continue to prevail!"

The road-tour evangelism is intense but hurried. The next day, Wattleton is on a jet headed home to New York.

"Saw you on television last night," says a jovial businessman passing in the aisle. Because of her media appearances, she's becoming a recognizable figure; on the other hand, he may be thinking he saw her on some sitcom. She's nearly six feet tall, with the bone structure of a greyhound, always elegantly made up and coiffed, suited and accessorized.

At the time of her appointment, Wattleton was something of a controversial choice to lead Planned Parenthood. Now, even people in the organization have trouble remembering who the president was before she became its youngest in 1978, when she was 34. It's the oldest, largest, best financed and most powerful single advocate for and provider of contraceptive services in the country, and Wattleton has been a particularly visible and telegenic leader during a period when the organization frequently found itself dueling in public. She's Ms. Family Planning.

No one like her had ever led the venerable Planned Parenthood Federation before -- no one who was female, no one who was black, and no one so determined to lead the charge on abortion. And Faye Wattleton, then executive director of Planned Parenthood in Dayton, Ohio, was by no means a unanimous choice for the post.

"There was considerable discomfort among some members of our own board of directors," remembers Dr. Louise Tyrer, Planned Parenthood's vice president for medical affairs. It was a time for the organization to lie low, to quietly provide health care services through its local clinics and not court controversy, went the minority opinion.

But there were also Wattleton partisans who believed that "the federation was in danger of becoming irrelevant," says David Andrews, now its executive vice president. "It had lost its sense of direction."

"I know there were people who swore they'd never give us another dime," Wattleton says. "I figured, for every one we lost we'd get two or three who'd say, 'I'm glad to see Planned Parenthood standing up.' "

In the restructuring that followed Wattleton's appointment, 60 to 70 percent of the federation's professional staff resigned or was ousted, she estimates. There is room at the top for arguments over strategy, but not over fundamentals. "I make it very clear," she says. "If you're not clear where you stand on the abortion issue, if you're worried that birth control for teen-agers encourages promiscuity, or you're not so sure everybody ought to have access to birth control whenever they want it ... it's probably not the kind of outfit you're comfortable with."

Wattleton's own lack of squeamishness about defending abortion is a matter of principle -- "You can't pick and choose on reproductive choices; women either have them or they don't" -- and of experience. She was a Columbia University graduate nursing student when she first saw a woman die after a botched abortion. "Lysol and bleach," Wattleton remembers. "Injected into her uterus." The victim was 17; the abortionist was her mother.

"It was not an isolated incident; almost every night in ob/gyn a septic abortion patient came in," Wattleton continues. Some died; some were so scarred and damaged that they required sterilization. "Those people who want to be less devoted to this concern simply don't have the kind of visceral understanding of what it means not to have legal abortion," she says.

Of course, visceral response to abortion works both ways. Wattleton's presidency has coincided with the rise of the right-to-life movement and a sustained period of assault on legal abortion.

Lately, the antiabortion effort from the White House has gathered steam again; old war cries are being shouted with new vigor. Wattleton may have to spend even more than her usual 100 days a year on the road, importuning and denouncing.

"It's the end of the Reagan era," she says. "They're going for broke."

The skirmishes have grown particularly intense in the past year.

A few weeks ago, a federal court dismissed Planned Parenthood's lawsuit attempting to overturn the so-called "Mexico City" policy of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The issue, as it so often has been, was abortion, and it is not yet decided.

Announced at a conference in Mexico in 1984 and scheduled to take effect at the end of this year, the policy would cut off AID funds to international family planning agencies that offer abortions, referrals or counseling about abortion, even if those programs are underwritten by private funds. Planned Parenthood's international arm, Family Planning International Assistance, receives nearly $18 million in AID grants and serves more clients (more than 3.5 million) than Planned Parenthood does here.

Besides battling in court (the federation now spends about $270,000 annually on litigation), Planned Parenthood unleashed a series of angry advertisements last year that denounced "extremists" and "right-wing fanatics" in the White House and at AID and depicted some Third World women and children near starvation. The ads, which cost about $500,000 to produce and place, attacked Sen. Jesse Helms and then-AID director M. Peter McPherson by name.

Acting AID Administrator Jay Morris calls the ads "deliberately misleading" and says Planned Parenthood has "gone beyond the rules of civilized debate." The court's action in dismissing Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, he says, will allow AID "to operate an extensive voluntary family planning program without associating the U.S. with foreign abortion advocates."

Planned Parenthood immediately filed an appeal; in addition, Wattleton says, federation lobbyists are attempting to "neutralize" the Mexico City policy in Congress. "We went into this lawsuit and this battle with the Reagan administration with the full intention of fighting it to the very end."

On the domestic front, meanwhile, President Reagan announced a parallel policy. Under proposed regulations, clinics and agencies will lose federal family planning grants through Title X of the Public Health Service Act if they provide abortions, abortion counseling and referrals or simply advise women of the availability of abortion, even when such counseling is privately funded -- unless the family planning program maintains completely separate facilities, files, records and telephone numbers. Similar measures have been defeated in Congress a number of times. "Perhaps {the administration} thought we had all gone on vacation and said, 'Well, we'll try it again,' " Wattleton says. The federation is readying its lobbyists and lawyers to resist.

All this gave Planned Parenthood enough to do, what with the intermittent need to beat back state "squeal laws," to denounce continued violence against its clinics and to push for contraceptive ads on television. Then came the Bork nomination.

Once the president announced his choice, the first of 250,000 direct-mail appeals for resistance and money began to flow. Wattleton, hitting as many audiences, newspapers and airwaves as she could, labeled Bork a "radical" who "sees it as totally appropriate for government to be involved in {citizens'} most private lives, in their bedrooms" -- a reference to Bork's controversial writings on the Griswold decision legalizing contraceptive use by married couples.

Another round of ads was placed in 17 newspapers at a cost of about $200,000. Like all the federation's recent media campaigns -- prepared by the Public Media Center of San Francisco -- the ads minced no words. "Robert Bork's Position on Reproductive Rights" shouts the headline. "You Don't Have Any."

Bork supporters such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) found the ads "bigoted, biased, one-sided and false." Hatch also charged Planned Parenthood with improper use of its tax-exempt charitable contributions. (Planned Parenthood maintains that IRS regulations permit "informational" campaigns, so long as they avoid electoral politics.) Bork himself, in defiantly insisting that his nomination be considered by the full Senate, denounced the "public campaign of distortion" mounted against him.

"At some point, you really have to take the gloves off," Wattleton says. "We don't go around starting things ... but we're not going to back away from anybody."

As for charges that Planned Parenthood and similar "special interest groups" have "politicized" and thereby damaged the judicial nomination process, Wattleton says she's "perplexed ... To suggest that 53 senators are the puppets of 'special interest groups' is a wide stretch of the imagination. What about the thousands and thousands of people who wrote all those letters and post cards? Are they to be defined as 'special interest groups'? Those are Americans who care deeply about the direction of the Supreme Court."

Should the president's next Supreme Court nominee be "of similar philosophy and judicial temperament," she vows that Planned Parenthood will mount another offensive. "It wouldn't make much sense to just oppose Mr. Bork and then say, 'All right, we've made our point; let's go home,' " she says.

Wattleton insists that finger pointing and harsh language in Planned Parenthood's campaigns do not hurt its cause; indeed, her presidency has been a time of considerable growth. The federation now has 400,000 direct-mail donors, compared with 85,000 in 1978 when she was appointed; its budget (including funding for its 183 affiliates), has climbed from $117 million to $230 million.

Taking to the ramparts has surely cost it some forward motion. It's difficult for Planned Parenthood to focus on teen-age pregnancy and sex education programs when, as an aide to the House Energy Committee's subcommittee on health has pointed out, "There are all these brushfires to put out; there's this constant damage control to be done."

But even some of its opponents agree that Planned Parenthood has successfully held off most of its attackers. It fields some of the Hill's more effective lobbyists, and regularly mobilizes its affiliates and members in defense of its agenda. It is to the right-to-life movement what the National Rifle Association is to gun-control advocates: a frustratingly tough opponent.

"Somehow, they've managed to present themselves as the objective, unbiased authority on women's health issues," says Kay James, director of public affairs for the National Right to Life Committee. "The prolife people are the ones who must defend their position."

Planned Parenthood is "persistent; it's well-financed ... and I think it's formidable indeed," says Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a frequent opponent. "The struggle is undecided. I don't think they've won; I don't think we've won."

"Simply to have held its own over the Reagan administration is a considerable achievement," says the health subcommittee staffer.

Wattleton gets a fair amount of credit for that record. Supporters and foes both go on at length about her articulateness, her presence, her forcefulness. "A superstar," Hyde calls her.

"Faye Wattleton is a very effective spokesman for her side," says Hatch, who is among those skewered by name in certain Planned Parenthood ads. "She's very close-minded to other points of view, but that's because she's such an advocate and an activist."

"People say to me -- and they mean it as a compliment -- 'You're the prolife movement's Faye Wattleton,' " says Kay James. "In an unusual sort of way, I have ... admiration for her."

Wattleton is not, she confesses, as imperturbable as she seems. She is a coolly competent chief executive, not given to informality or office bantering, and a notably unflappable television personality. Yet she preps obsessively for each public appearance.

"As a black woman, I did and I still do worry about inadequacies and the fear of failure," she says. "It's my worst fear that I won't represent the organization well ... If I am together, it's because I'm so scared of not being together and I overcompensate."

In fact, Wattleton worries more about fumbling a speech than about the physical dangers she may face. A variety of obscene and threatening letters regularly arrives at Planned Parenthood's New York offices, where video monitors and security guards stand sentry. Each year, several of the threats are deemed serious enough to forward to federal investigators.

Because her appearances often attract picketers (about a dozen walked the sidewalk outside the hotel in Chicago, chanting "Prochoice, that's a lie/ They don't care if babies die"), armed plainclothesmen now accompany her to receptions and banquets. She sometimes checks into hotels under assumed names. She is "careful but not hysterical."

She gets tired, especially lately, when there seems to be no offseason. Issues seem resolved, then arise again and again. "When the day comes that Americans are comfortable with sexuality, that will be the day things are settled," she says, "and I don't see that happening for a very long time."

She is in a cab headed home to her apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side and her 11-year-old daughter, Felicia. Wattleton's marriage ended several years after she took the helm at Planned Parenthood; she tries to compensate for her wearying schedule by not being away from home more than two nights in a row and by almost never working weekends.

"It's amazing to me, we're progressive and enlightened in so many ways and so prudish in our attitudes towards sex," Wattleton reflects. "A country like Thailand has such broad acceptance of sexuality. Children play with condoms! They blow them up as balloons. It's not exceptional or unusual, it's a way of life." It's such a contrast, she says, to "our kind of repressed, uptight approach."

If there's one American destined not to be repressed, she vows, it's Felicia. "She and I have talked about sexual matters from the very early years of her life," Wattleton says with pride. "She was not a child banned from my bathroom or her father's bathroom. She was never reprimanded for touching herself, though we talked about privacy and appropriateness. She knows -- I hope, most of all -- that she can always come to me with her questions and her interests."

Wattleton herself, though, has probably come too far from the Church of God to argue such notions with her own mother. The Rev. Ozie Wattleton was a role model of sorts, an example of strong womanhood. But over the years, the preaching mother, no longer physically strong, and the crusading daughter have had to mute their differences of opinion, disagreements grown too formidable to resolve.

"We haven't tried to reconcile them," the daughter says quietly. "At 72, she believes what she believes. She doesn't view the world as I view it.

"We have this unspoken ..." Wattleton pauses, collects her thoughts. "It would really be very difficult for her to accept that maybe I have a valid point of view. We simply don't discuss it."

Perhaps, too, Wattleton's own patience for conciliatory discussions and compromise is eroding. She jokes that "nothing is certain except death, taxes and controversy over reproductive rights," though she does not seem to find it really funny.

"As I get older and crankier," she says, "I have a great sense of indignation that we're still fighting over what should have been settled long ago."