It is a pity of the most time-wasting proportions that most people who believe that abortion is okay cannot speak to people who do not think so, and vice versa. The president's recent proposed regulations (he would bar family-planning units from listing abortion as an option) are a case in point. His critics accuse him of violating regulations, the law and the Constitution.

It is apparently impossible for many pro-choice advocates to understand that there are sane and reasonable people in America who believe that abortion is a homicidal act.

And it is apparently impossible for many pro-life advocates to understand that there are sane and reasonable people in America who believe abortion is the equivalent of preferring Pepsi-Cola to Coca-Cola.

Now, if a person in authority believes that abortion is homicide, one should reasonably expect that he would do everything within his constitutional power to discourage acts of homicide. It is relevant to quote Douglas Gould, who is a vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He tells us how his clinics operate. The story, by Clifford May, is from the July 31 New York Times:

''At whatever type of clinic, Mr. Gould said, 'the normal practice is a woman comes in and says she thinks she's pregnant. She's then tested to make sure. If it's determined that she is pregnant, we ask her how she feels about it. If she says "great" we say "congratulations" and tell her about three places she can go to for prenatal care.'

''However, Mr. Gould said, if the client is unhappy about being pregnant or unsure how she feels, 'We say, ''Here are your options.'' ' The options, he went on, are a full-term pregnancy, after which the woman keeps the baby or surrenders it for adoption, or an end to the pregnancy, 'and if that's her decision we tell her about three places she can go to have the abortion.' ''

Now one can imagine Gould going further, in dealing with a pregnant woman.

''And there is a third possibility. You can bear the child and decide, after the birth, whether you are happy or unhappy to have that child. If you are happy, then congratulations. If not, here are three clinics that will take the child and exterminate it.''

Ah (you can hear the screeches) -- but infanticide is against the law and abortion is not. That is true, the right-to-life people acknowledge, but the legality of abortion came in by judicial ukase, and its pedigree is therefore not democratically tested. And even if it were, we would simply be facing one more example of a bad law, such as the law that condoned slavery. You cannot blame those presidents opposed to slavery who took every opportunity -- for instance, in backing the Missouri Compromise and other legislation -- to discourage the spread of slavery. Nor would you condemn a president in the 1850s who proclaimed that no federal subsidies would be made available to slave owners to guarantee a minimum value for their slaves, nor against a law forbidding nonslaves from selling themselves into slavery. Such persons (sane and rational) believe that federal funds should not be available for the purpose of introducing pregnant women to abortion in order to oblige their wish that they hadn't got pregnant to begin with.

The other view is that the termination of a pregnancy is a woman's option to be compared with her option to free speech, to worship at her own temple or not to worship at all, and to go where she likes. Now, pro-life folk need to understand that just as it can be said that some highly civilized folk believed that slavery was a normal human institution (St. Paul, John C. Calhoun), so some people feel that way about abortion. And as long as people feel that way, they are perplexed, indignant and outraged at condemnations of their behavior, let alone efforts to restrict it. It is for this reason that one should be no more tempted to scorn a woman who terminates a pregnancy by abortion than one would have been to associate with Thomas Jefferson, slave owner. The theological term for it is invincible ignorance. The vernacular is: they have a different view of things. The Christian expression is: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Abortion is here to stay for the foreseeable future. At this point, there can only be fundamental change as fundamental change evolves in human perceptions of what is and what isn't an exercisable option in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Meanwhile, both parties should expect opposite parties to do what they can to advance their positions.