The woman on the telephone was sputtering in outrage. She wanted to know if I'd seen this week's Newsweek. There was this quote in it, on Page 23, in the third column, in a story about the antiabortionists' new tactics. She read the quote. I could see why she called.

"Last week," read the story, "the Louisiana Legislature approved a measure that would allow an abortion only to save the mother's life, but not for victims of rape or incest." And then the story quoted state Rep. Carl Gunter, who opposes abortion in cases of incest, as saying this: "Inbreeding is how we get championship horses."

Inbreeding is also how we get imbeciles.

And the Louisiana legislature appears to have more than its share.

It is the most backward legislature in the nation and in this session it has amply illustrated why citizens need to be able to turn to the federal judiciary for protection of basic rights when they are attacked by a bunch of political buffoons.

The Louisiana House is the one that voted on Memorial Day to fine people $25 for beating up flag-burners. It is also the one leading the charge against allegedly obscene record lyrics. Washington Post staff writer David Maraniss recently described what happened when Rep. Odon Bacque of Lafayette introduced a bill to make it a crime for a man to rape his wife. The bill was brought up at the last hour on a Monday night, a night when legislators want to party, not work. "The moment the bill was read, hooting and hollering began," Maraniss wrote. The bill was tabled.

Bacque is quoted as saying: "They just refused to take my bill seriously. With 102 men and three women in the House, they tend to have the mentality where women are considered objects and property. Those men are here for three months, most of them without their wives. They go out and get entertained every night. They tend to party and carry on and have a good time, and the whole atmosphere, to put it mildly, is not sensitive to the needs of women."

This is the context in which a state representative can compare incest with horsebreeding. It is also the context in which the state Senate can pass a bill that reduces the penalty for beating up a flag-burner to a $25 fine, and then hitch the most restrictive antiabortion bill in the nation to it.

After Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed legislation that would outlaw abortion except to save the life of the mother, the legislature passed another bill that would allow abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy caused by forceable rape or incest. For men who laugh at a marital rape law, that's probably a big concession. But to qualify, the rape would have to be reported within seven days to legal and medical authorities. Pregnant rape victims who are retarded and unable to resist could not get legal abortions.

The new bill would punish doctors who perform illegal abortions with up to 10 years of hard labor and $100,000 in fines. Oddly, it doesn't provide for any punishment for the women. You'd think the good old boys would have devised some suitable heinous fate for them, like being sentenced to spend the next 10 years of their lives barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen -- Louisiana's version of community service.

Roemer has 20 days to veto the bill, or sign it, or to allow it to become law by doing nothing. The state attorney general has raised constitutional questions about it: The state Constitution requires that major amendments be germane to the original legislation, which in this case is the flag-burning law. The only thing those two pieces of lunacy have in common is their mean-spiritedness.

There are only three women in the 144-member Louisiana legislature, the fewest of any state. All three women voted against the abortion bill. The Fund for the Feminist Majority has documented a huge gap in the way men and women are voting on abortion rights in legislatures across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to let states limit abortions. Women, usually by large majorities and in both parties, are voting to protect abortion rights while a majority of men in states such as Florida, Kansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan are voting to restrict abortions.

The Supreme Court has exposed American women, and their health, to the malicious manipulations of ignorant buffoons like the ones in the Louisiana legislature. And people like Carl Gunter are making it clear that power and control over women, and not some high-minded morality about life, is what is behind the votes to restrict abortion. Women are going to have to elect women to protect them, and they are going to have to cross party lines to do it. It's the best way of getting rid of imbeciles.