OH, CONGRESS, TELL us when life begins. Is it at conception or at birth or, as I firmly believe, sometime after 40 but before 60? Is it only after psychoanalysis or after the first marriage or after the earth has moved, or maybe after you have had a child and realize you have something that cannot be returned or divorced or exchanged or sold and that will outlive you. I'm not sure it's life, but it sure is living.

Oh, Congress, tell me also if abortion is moral. Is it right or is it wrong, which is not the the same as legal and illegal? And can you say if it is sometimes moral, sometimes not, sometimes, like war, immoral but necessary? So tell me, Congress, is abortion right or is it wrong?

And tell me also, Congress, about teen-age promiscuity. Tell me how chastity should be encouraged because promiscuity will lead to a general loosening of morals such as accompanied the fall of Rome, not to mention warts and a bad complexion -- or is it the other way around? Give me the lowdown on birth control, whether that is right or wrong, and tell me also about sex education, which some people seem to want banned on the grounds that it is, like sex itself, dirty.

But finally, Congress, tell me why you are poking around in matters that should be of no concern to you. A teen-ager's chastity would seem to be very much his or her own business and not the business of the national legislature. (By the way, why doesn't anyone seem to care about teen-age boys?)

Why is there this sudden compulsion to legislate private matters, to have the government resolve all questions of morality and set standards for personal behavior based on religious grounds? Why is it that conservatives who want government off our backs, don't care if government gets into our bedrooms? What is wrong, really, in good old American plualism in which it is understood that there are various ways of doing various things and that none of them is either right or wrong, just different.

Nowhere is this truer than an abortion. To be a moderate on this issue, is to be nowhere at all. There seems to be a compulsion on the part of a whole lot of people to make abortion a matter of government policy. Policy on one side of the issue think the government ought to make abortions a matter of fundamental right -- and pay for those who cannot afford to pay for their own. And people on the other side think the government ought to simply outlaw all abortions.

But there are lot of people in the middle. There are lots of people who can understand how those who find abortion morally reprehensible would not want their tax money spent for that purpose. This, after all, is pretty much the position some people took when they would not pay their taxes during the Vietnam war. But that is a long way from telling people straight out that they cannot under any circumstances have an abortion -- either with their own money or money privately supplied to them.

What that does is legislate a certain notion of morality. It takes a moral position about which there is no consensus and ossifies it into law. (In fact, the consensus seems to be that abortion ought to be permitted.) And since only the government, but not society, will disapprove if abortions persist, they will persist. Women will continue to have abortoins for the reasons women have always had abortions. Because they want to. Because they need to. Because often they alone have to live with the consequences of their pregnancy.

Somewhat the same sort of thing is happening with other issues that have been deemed moral. In each and every one, a determined effort is being made to impose a certain moral standard that may or may not be the standard of the majority -- not that it matters any which side has a majority. What matters is that these are issues for which there is no widely held agreement on right and wrong and for which government should not, by fiat, be making moral commandments. There is a difference between Jesse Helms and Moses.

If it's all right with Congress, a teen-ager's sex life should be left to the teen-ager and his or her parents. The same holds for birth control, sex education, prayer, abortion and even the entirely philosphical decision of when life begins. I'm not sure when that is. I'm just sure Congress doesn't know either.