I ARRANGED my first abortion when I was about 22. The lady in question was the former girlfriend of a friend who had left town, and so she turned to me and I turned, as you did then, to the underground. For $400 and the carfare to Union City, N.J., the deed was done. It was dirty work.

Shortly after the abortion, the woman lost all feeling in one finger. She was a secretary and she couldn't type, and so for a while we worried about her health, until the feeling returned. We did not worry about life -- when it began and when it ended and whether we had any right to do what we had done. We did what we had to do and went on with our lives.

I think of that experience often because for me, it is at the root of why I am opposed to efforts to outlaw abortion. I hold no great philosophical position in favor of it. In truth, I suppose the world would be a lot better off if everyone agreed once and for all that life -- all life -- is sacred. But few will shake hands with me on that. People who think one-celled life in the womb is sacred don't much care about what happens to people after they are born. Capital punishment, for instance, tends not to bother them much.

Anyway, back when I was 22, I didn't give those matters much thought. All I knew was that the lady was in what used to be called "trouble," and she needed help. She was a foreigner and alone, and the man who was responsible for her condition (at least as responsible as she was) had gone somewhere and could not be found. His ignorance was truly blissful. As for me,, I did what I thought I had to do.

Nowadays I would give the matter more thought. Now, after years of debate about abortion, I give some thought about when life begins and when you have the right to abort it. I would think of the connection, if any, between abortion and euthanasia and between the two of them and capital punishment. I would think of all that and then do the same thing I did at 22. It would just be harder to do it this time.

There is, after all, something very scary about a society making decisions through their politicians and their courts about when life begins and when life ends and when and under what circumstances you can end it. The world has witnessed regimes where human life was considered so much junk, where certain kinds of people were simply defined as less than human and killed, and where diseased and mentally ill people were murdered because they were, like an unwanted baby, unwanted. Abortion cannot be considered in a vacuum.

But all of that would not have changed the condition of that girl -- made her better off. The fact remained that she was something like one month pregnant and alone in a foreign country and in no position to raise or care for a baby. She was scared to death, abortions were illegal, but she had one anyway.

And that is precisely what would happen if abortions were made illegal again. The law, the wonderful law, would apply in a very limited fashion. It would really not apply to the antiabortion senators and representatives and members of state legislatures.It does not apply to them because I know -- and you know -- that if their daughter, their wife or their girlfriend came to them and said they were one month pregnant, they would not shake their heads and say, "Honey, that's tough -- tough but too bad."

They would not say to their 15-year-old daughter or their wife or, better yet their mistress, that they must carry this baby they do not want. They would not say that this fetus, this fetus possibly produced by rape or incest or maybe deformed, must be born. No, this is a philosophical position, a political position. It would be checked at the doorstep.

What would happen is that these people, these people who are honestly and sincerely against abortion, would pay through the nose for one. They would do what I did when I was 22. They would make a lot off calls and go into the underground and do what had to be done. They would do it for themselves, but they would not permit it for the poor or the young or the terrified or the simple-minded who don't know that all that outlawing abortions will accomplish is make them more expensive -- and a lot riskier.

I arranged my first abortion when I was 22. It was also my last, so I can sit back and watch this fight and not feel personally involved. I have been there, though, and I know one thing.You could never outlaw abortion if you first outlawed hypocrisy.