That FOES of abortion would be finding comfort, and policy-level jobs in the Regan administration was perhaps predictable, given the way the national abortion debate has been moving in recent years and President Reagan's own broadly sympathetic views. What was not so widely expected, however, was that anti-abortionists would start going international -- to impress their point of view upon the extensive family-planning programs that the United States conducts and supports abroad.

It isn't yet clear whether anti-abortionists can muster the strength, either in the administration or in Congress, to achieve any substantial part of what is for some of them their maximum objective. This would entail removing the United States not only from programs that "promote" abortion but also from family planning, contraceptive programs and population control efforts overall. It is clear that a guerrilla war has been begun and, further, that many of those fighting it are terribly confused.

The fight against U.S.-supported foreign abortion programs is a sham battle. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) successfully took the United States out of what it was doing in that line of work in the early 1970s with an amendment to the foreign aid act. Successive gun-shy AID administrators have observed it scrupulously, so that he can now find only one small corner where, by stretching, it might be said that something abortion-related has been going on. That is a research program targeted on, among other things, botched abortions, a major Third World health problem. Even that small -- and humanitarian -- program has been sacrificed to Sen. Helms by the new AID administrator, W. Peter McPherson.

The opposition to family planning and population control is more serious. One school in the attack arises from a libertarian perspective: Choice in family planning should be left entirely to individuals and should not be influenced at all by state planning. A second school, starting from a "right-to-life" perspective, goes in exactly the opposite direction: Choice in family planning, at least in respect to abortion, should be removed entirely from the individual's jurisdiction. But both schools would restrict the American role in programs that, under presidents of both parties, have become a staple of American foreign policy over the last 30 years.

There is a view on the fringe that the "population crisis" is the artificial creation of statists and planners and that there is no real squeeze of people on resources anywhere. But it is only a view on the fringe. Though there is no real abortion issue in American overseas programs any more -- thank Jesse Helms of that -- there is a family planning issue. It would be a genuine calamity for American interests if the new administration were to be misled or intimidated into turning away from requests by other nations to help them deal with what they identify as their family planning needs.