A private abortion clinic in the District operated for at least eight years without a license from city health authorities.

The Hillcrest Women's Surgi-Center clinic at 7603 Georgia Ave. NW was without a license until last month, according to a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which licenses all health facilities.

A District law, effective April 6, 1978, requires the licensing of all clinics performing surgery. The Hillcrest clinic has advertised its abortion surgical services in local telephone Yellow Pages since May 1978, according to directory archives of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. A Hillcrest brochure says that surgery is performed at the clinic.

An employe of the Georgia Avenue clinic said it is one of five clinics owned by Dr. Michael Jackson. The others are two in Pennsylvania, one in Baltimore and Jackson's first D.C. clinic at 3233 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, she said.

That clinic, which city officials said is licensed, was bombed on New Year's Day in 1985. Jackson would not comment yesterday on the licensing issue.

Spokeswoman Cheryl Jamison of the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Department said the bombing "brought our attention to the problem."

The city did not act, however, until Tom Grenchik, a member of Catholics United for Life, attempted last February to determine if the clinic was licensed. Members of Catholics United for Life stand in front of the clinic and try to persuade women not to have abortions.

"I pulled out the Yellow Pages and showed them the ad," Grenchik said of his visit to city consumer offices. "The thing that floored me the most is they said they wouldn't do anything unless I wrote a letter of complaint. Once they know it isn't a licensed clinic, why does it take an individual to complain before they do anything?"

Jamison said, however, the city had been working on the issue for nearly a year. "I'm sure his coming in helped, but I'm not sure it was the catalyst for action," she said.

On March 7, city officials subpoenaed Jackson's records. Jackson, who had argued that the clinic was his office and therefore exempt from licensing, submitted a licensing application that same day. The city inspected the clinic and issued a license March 21.

The D.C. law carries a penalty of $300 or a maximum jail term of 90 days for operating an unlicensed clinic, but Jamison said no penalties were imposed. "The arrangement was, if he would get a license we would drop the legal proceedings," she said.

D.C. City Council Chairman David A. Clarke recently criticized the consumer agency for failing to protect the health and safety of residents who use clinics, nursing homes, day care centers, group homes and other facilities through its slowness in issuing licenses and "grossly underachieving" its inspection goals.

Carol Thompson, then-director of the consumer agency, responded that it had improved in issuing some license renewals but said more staff and money were needed to correct other licensing problems. Thompson recently was appointed the mayor's chief of staff.

The council has been concerned about licensing since 1984, when another private abortion clinic was found to have operated without a city license for two years. That clinic, owned by Dr. Milan Vuitch, had repeatedly violated medical standards involving sanitary conditions and the use of anesthesia.

Vuitch's clinic had been the target of several malpractice suits, including one filed by the relatives of a 32-year-old West Virginia woman who died after an abortion at the clinic. Authorities finally closed the unlicensed clinic. Vuitch surrendered his D.C. medical license and is no longer practicing, according to city attorneys.