OCEAN CITY, MD., JULY 28 -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has closely guarded his position on abortion, hinted today that he would not favor a total ban on the procedure.

In answer to a reporter's question, Schaefer said he agreed with Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer's decision earlier this year to veto a bill that would have outlawed abortions except to save the woman's life. However, Schaefer said he didn't know enough to say how he would have acted on a less restrictive bill that Roemer (D) vetoed Friday.

"That first law said no abortion under any circumstances," Schaefer said. "I would have done what Roemer did. That's all I'm saying."

Despite a wrenching March debate and filibuster in the Maryland General Assembly, Schaefer has refused to spell out what kind of abortion bill, if any, he would sign. He also has avoided statements on abortion during a reelection campaign in which he is heavily favored to win both the Democratic primary on Sept. 11 and the general election in November.

Schaefer, who describes himself as an admirer of Roemer, commented a day after the Louisiana governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed abortions only in reported cases of aggravated rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Earlier, Roemer had vetoed a bill that allowed abortions only to protect the life of the woman.

After addressing the closing session here of the Maryland Association of Counties, Schaefer was asked whether he could have signed the first Louisiana bill. He replied: "Absolutely not."

He added that he wasn't familiar enough with the details of the second Louisiana bill to have a position. "That's as far as I'm going to go," Schaefer said.

Schaefer has been looked at suspiciously by both abortion-rights and antiabortion activists in Maryland because of his reluctance to state a clear position.

During the 1986 gubernatorial campaign, Schaefer said he would favor easing restrictions on Medicaid abortions. After the election, however, he backed away and supported the current law that denies publicly funded abortions except in cases of rape, incest and to protect the woman's life.

In regard to the larger question of privately financed abortions, Schaefer has said "part" of his position is in line with the Medicaid language, but he has steadfastly declined to define the other part of his position.

Abortion is a central theme in several legislative races this year, and the issue is certain to resurface when the new General Assembly convenes in January.

Abortion-rights activists, fearing that the Supreme Court will eventually overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, are pressing the General Assembly to repeal a set of restrictive abortion laws that have been unenforceable since the Roe decision. A bill considered in the legislature this year would have called for no limits on abortion until the fetus is able to survive outside the womb.