The House rejected a $3.9 billion spending bill for the District of Columbia yesterday, in a vote that members said reflected opposition to proposed city funding of abortions, the likelihood of a presidential veto and continuing congressional unhappiness with the D.C. government.

The House voted 211-185 to turn down the 1991 D.C. appropriations bill and sent it back to a House-Senate conference committee for further work -- essentially reversing its position of only three months ago. Nearly 40 legislators were not present to vote.

In July, the House voted 241-178 in favor of an initial D.C. budget bill that included most of the language of the bill rejected yesterday, including a provision restoring the District government's right to finance abortions for poor women. A similar bill was approved by a voice vote in the Senate and then by a conference committee nine days ago.

Yesterday, however, legislators opposed to abortion rights turned out in force to try to defeat the final version of the District bill. Their ranks appeared to be swollen by members who were frustrated with the D.C. government and angry that they were in session Saturday as they tried to finish work on the national budget, legislators said.

"There is sort of a general displeasure," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), a member of the House Democratic leadership. "It is an easy target for posturing . . . . The District of Columbia is unpopular around the country."

The House action has no immediate effect on the District government because the city is operating under a temporary, government-wide spending measure signed Friday by President Bush.

But the vote on what had been expected to be a routine budget matter caught the Democratic leadership off guard.

Both Hoyer and Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, said they were uncertain whether they would seek changes on the abortion language before bringing the bill back to the floor for another vote this week.

"I'm in shock," said Dixon. "I'll have to go back down the list of people who voted no and see what I can do to get their support."

Before voting to defeat the proposed budget bill, members voted 210-186 to turn aside an effort by Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) to force the House to accept a Senate amendment permitting the local Big Brothers group to bar gay men as mentors for youth. The amendment was knocked out in the conference committee recently.

If they proceed with the D.C. bill's current language, the House and Senate are headed for a confrontation with the White House. Administration officials have said Bush would veto the bill if it includes any money for abortion other than those necessary to save the life of a mother.

Bush last year vetoed the D.C. appropriations bill twice, before Congress acceded to his demand and forbade the city to use locally generated tax dollars for abortion.

Some legislators in favor of abortion rights want to force the president to veto the measure again shortly before the Nov. 6 elections, as a way of embarrassing Bush and the Republican Party. However, there is also pressure to finish up the budget so Congress can recess, and D.C. officials are anxious that the bill be approved soon so the city can obtain its $430 million federal payment.

Hoyer suggested that Congress may strip the bill of the abortion language opposed by Bush to expedite work on the budget. "There's not the time to posture too much at this point," he said.

Most of the debate over the D.C. bill yesterday was over abortion, with antiabortion Reps. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) and Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) jousting with Dixon and other abortion-rights advocates, such as Reps. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mel Levine (D-Calif.).

"The issue is an issue literally of life and death," said Smith. "If we don't subsidize the killing of unborn children, we'll get less of it."

Dixon sought to portray the issue as one of local rights, saying the District should have the right to spend its own money as it sees fit.

But Dornan argued that the Constitution gives Congress the right to legislate over District policies. "The governor of the District of Columbia is not the disgraced mayor," he said, referring to Marion Barry. "The governor of the District of Columbia is this body."

Afterward, Hyde attributed the House vote primarily to antiabortion sentiment.

"I cannot explain it as anything but an antiabortion vote," he said. "There is a realization that it will be vetoed" unless the abortion language is altered, he added.

Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), who supported the D.C. budget bill in July but voted against it yesterday, said many legislators did not want to approve a bill that was certain to be vetoed.

"Why go through the whole exercise?" he asked. "Why not do it right the first time?"

But Parris and other representatives also suggested there are other reasons for the bill's defeat yesterday. "It is Saturday, and we've got no business being here," said Parris, who brought his dog to the House floor yesterday. "People are just testy. We've been here night and day for weeks, and it is beginning to show."

Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) voted against the D.C. bill, but he sought to emphasize that he supports abortion rights and described his vote as "my way of showing distaste for how the {D.C.} government is run."

"They seem to have an excessive number of public employees," Glickman said. "It may have been unfair."

Among area representatives, Hoyer, Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and C. Thomas McMillen (D-Md.) voted in favor of the D.C. bill. Roy Dyson (D-Md.), Beverly B. Byron (D-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Parris voted against it.