FOR 17 YEARS, opponents of Roe v. Wade, have been active in political campaigns in an effort to test the ruling's limits and promote the appointment of more conservative judges. Abortion-rights forces entered the fray in large numbers more recently, especially after the Supreme Court opened the door to greater state regulation of abortion. In the elections just completed, therefore, abortion was a major issue in more contests, state and federal, than ever before. Both sides promoted candidates, committed volunteers and spent a lot of money. Did either side win decisively? No. The results varied around the country.

In states where the issue was an important factor in the election, abortion-rights candidates won governorships in Florida, Texas, Rhode Island, Georgia, Minnesota and New Mexico, and their opponents won in Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa and Pennsylvania. In California, both candidates supported abortion rights, but the winner replaced an abortion opponent.

The action is in the states now, so these victories are important. In Michigan, for example, defeated governor James Blanchard had vetoed restrictive legislation, which his successor will be much more likely to sign. Conversely, Gov. Bob Martinez, who lost his Florida office, had been a strong opponent of abortion who pressed his legislature for action. The governor-elect, Lawton Chiles, would veto just the kind of proposals Mr. Martinez was pushing. The issue is less volatile at the moment on the federal level, for although abortion-rights forces picked up two seats in the Senate and eight in the House, they still do not have veto-proof strength to counter the abortion opponent in the White House.

The courts will continue to grapple with the constitutional aspects of abortion. The reversal of Roe v. Wade, of course, would place the issue squarely in the hands of elected legislators. But even under present circumstances, there is enough room for state action to keep a variety of abortion decisions before the voters. While a few years ago, advocates on both sides were intransigent -- absolutely no abortions versus absolutely no restrictions -- the political process has forced some compromises. These are most likely to come in the areas of rape and incest cases, late-term abortions, parental notification and public funding. All this can be useful and constructive, but it will be a terrible setback and reversion to a time of injustice if the pressures to deny women the right to choose and jurisdictions the right to spend their own tax monies to fund abortion for poor women are allowed to succeed.