In his Jan. 4 column, "'All-or-Nothing' Gets You Nothing," Colman McCarthy decries the single-issue politics of the pro-life movement. He suggests that, instead of opposing liberal Sens. Edward Kennedy, John Culver, George McGovern and Birch Bayh because they are wrong on abortion, pro-life activists should support them because they are right on so many other issues.

McCarthy does not explain how health care and good housing help someone who is not around to take advantage of them. He seems not to understand how radically the liberal senators' support of aborton undercuts everything else they do and say. It is as though they are saying to the rest of us, "We will interfere with every other form of injustice that one person may commit against another: racial discrimination, economic exploitation, denial of free speech. But one particular kind of injustice we will not even protest. Abortion is a matter for each person's conscience. A doctor may abort a child at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 20 weeks, whatever. We won't interfere. But we will take very good care of the survivors -- the children who have the good luck to be born alive."

The tiny embryo or fetus is the most helpless form of human life -- utterly defenseless against the curet, the suction machine, the saline solution. If he/she is expendable, then what kind of society do we have? What has become of the "compassion" and "justice" the liberal senators are forever talking about? And how safe are the rest of us? The real test of a nation is its treatment of the helpless and the unwanted: the unborn, minority groups, prisoners, the elderly poor. Once the gate is opened to abuse of any one of these groups, the others are vulnerable. Indeed, all of us are vulnerable, because all of us can become helpless through age, sickness or accident. Keeping the gate closed should be the first work of liberals.

It is ironic that McCarthy names "low-cost health care" as one of the good, pro-life programs his liberal senators support. Medicaid, for example? Until the pro-life movement defeated some good liberals as the polls, that program subsidized abortion. And every one of the good liberals McCarthy mentions supported public funding of abortion -- and still does.

Some of them even try to make a virtue of their stand. Sen. Kennedy recently signed a fund-raising letter for Sen. Culver. Kennedy suggested, among other things, that Culver's presence in Washington is needed to "counter the efforts of national right-to-life groups . . ." Two inserts in the mailing noted that Culver has supported Medicaid funding of abortion.

In 1978 Sen. Bayh received a $2,000 honorarium for addressing an anniversary celebration of an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh.

In a recent letter to Ms. magazine, Sen. McGovern referred to The anti-choice force and their friends on the right," then added: "My personal experience with these groups is growing each day and, as accustomed as I am to campaign tactics, their viciousness and deviousness still amaze me." It was a typical McGovern performance: he did not describe any tactics, name any names or offer any evidence. In a recent fund-raising letter on his own behalf, McGovern noted his "vocal opposition to a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion" and again including the right-to-life movement in his complaint about "right-wing forces." (My friends in the right-to-life movement includes socialists, feminists, pacifists and at least one person who was active in McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.)

It is fine that, as McCarthy notes, Sen. Kennedy supports alternatives to abortion. The problem is that he also supports abortion. He wants the government to finance the alternatives and the abortions, too. In this he is like the politicians who tried to evade the issue of the Vietnam War by saying that they favored a volunteer army: "If you want to fight in Vietnam, fine; if you don't, that's fine, too. Everyone must pay for the fighting, but men who have hang-ups about the morality of the thing can satisfy their consciences by not enlisting." As though individuals, so long as they act as a group, have no moral responsibility for what they finance!

McCarthy says of these liberal senators that it is "regrettable that they do not share the anti-abortion rage of, say, Mother Teresa. But until more saints enter U.S. politics, sacrificing the best candidates we have is about the worst politics we can pursue." If Kennedy, Culver, McGovern an Bayh are the best candidates we have, the country is in worse shape than many of us had imagined.

Pro-lifers on the left are not looking for sanctity -- just consistency. We find it in candidates and potential candidates who oppose abortion with the same firmness and courage that they oppose poverty and militarism: Mark Hatfield, Dolores Huerta, Jesse Jackson, Ellen McCormack, Mary Rose Oakar, Graciela Olivarez, William Proxmire and others. McCarthy should look to this group to find the best candidates.