IT IS getting so you need a scorecard to keep up with what Congress is doing every day about abortion. Kicking around in committees are 1) proposed constitutional amendments to bar it, 2) a set of bills intended to strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over cases involving it and 3) yet another bill to define "life" in a way designed to eliminate abortion. Meanwhile, there are the riders that gets attached to appropriation bills to stop the expenditure of federal funds on abortion procedures.

The latest of these riders appeared again Tuesday in a conference committee. The committee voted to accepted a rider that prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for abortions except when the life of the pregnant woman is at stake. But then the committee rejected, at least for the moment, a second rider that would have prevented the health insurance programs of government employees from paying for any abortions.

These are pretty mean-minded and discriminatory riders. The one rejected by the committee (having previously passed the House, 242-155) would have put government employees in a class by themselves; it would have excluded them by law from benefits of a kind routinely offered by the health plans of most other employers. The one accepted by the committee is even worse; it says that women who receive Medicaid (and thus, by definition, are too poor to buy medical care for themselves) cannot have abortions even if they become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Substantive legislation of this kind doesn't belong on appropriations bills, as Sen. Hatfield pointed out when the conferees took up the government employees rider. If Congress is going to do this kind of thing to labor-management relations or to the benefits of Medicaid recipients, it should do so directly through specific bills addressed to those subjects. The issues raised in the abortion debate are so fundamental and so controversial that they deserve more serious treatment than being tacked onto a government-funding bill.