Archbishop John J. O'Connor declared yesterday that the force of law must be brought to stamp out "the grave immorality of abortion" and called for politicians to take the lead in enacting such legislation.

"What do we ask of a candidate or someone already in office?" O'Connor said. "Nothing more than this: a statement opposing abortion on demand, and a commitment to work for a modification of the permissive interpretations issued on the subject by the United States Supreme Court."

O'Connor, delivering his promised rebuttal to New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's lecture on the role of religion and politics, did not directly discuss Cuomo's speech last month at Notre Dame.

But in remarks to doctors at Cathedral High School, a speech sponsored by New York Medical College and Flower Hospital, O'Connor rejected the Democratic governor's contention that abortion should not be outlawed when there is no broad consensus on the morality of abortion.

"It will simply not do to argue that laws won't work, or that 'we can't legislate morality.' Nor will it do to argue, 'I won't impose my morality on others,' " the archbishop said.

Cuomo and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro, both of whom are Roman Catholic, have said that they are personally opposed to abortion but that they do not have the right to impose their view on others. Cuomo also said at Notre Dame that women would continue to have abortions, whatever the law.

"It is obvious that law is not the entire answer to abortion," O'Connor said. "Nor is it the entire answer to theft, arson, child abuse or shooting police officers. Everybody knows that. But who would suggest that we repeal the laws against such crimes because the laws are so often broken."

O'Connor said he was "encouraged" by Cuomo's decision to form a task force to study issues of human life -- including abortion, "test-tube" fertilization and the "right to die" -- but he noted that such a panel can only make recommendations.

"We continue to look to our highest elected officials for leadership in bringing about these changes in current laws and policies so critically needed to protect every human life at every stage of its existence," he said.

O'Connor has been at the focus of the controversy over religion and politics -- first, when he said last spring that Catholics, in good conscience, cannot vote for candidates who explicitly favor abortion; then, when he criticized statements by Ferraro that he said implied that the Catholic position on abortion was not monolithic.