There's more than one way to kill a cat. If you're a bit on the devious side, you can smother the poor thing to death while murmuring "nice kitty."

I don't want to accuse Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of deviousness, but his approach to the Civil Rights Restoration Act has the distinct overtones of "nice kitty."

The basic bill is an attempt to restore the meaning of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to what nearly everybody thought it said all along. The necessity to do that arises from the Supreme Court's ruling in the Grove City case. In that case, the court agreed with civil rights advocates that a college's acceptance of students who have direct government loans is enough to bring the college under the requirements of (this gets a bit comlicated) Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. (Grove City College had argued that so long as the college itself did not accept federal funds, it should be immune from the federal requirements.)

But much of what the court gave with that part of its ruling it took away with another part: the part that said the requirements apply only to the particular programs that receive federal funds. In the case of Grove City College, only its admissions office would be subject to coverage. Until that ruling, the prevailing legal view was that federal money used by, say, the chemistry department brought the entire college under the federal anti-discrimination rules. The Civil Rights Restoration Act would make that view a matter of law.

Hatch, who has not been listed among the champions of civil rights, at first opposed the proposal. Making no headway in that attempt, what he did on Tuesday was to introduce an amendment to ban the use of federal funds for abortions. The Utah Republican now seeks to give the impression of embracing the intent of the bill ("nice kitty"), insisting that he only wants, in the interest of consistency, to extend the anti-abortion policy of the Hyde Amendment to all federal programs.

The effect of this, if Hatch is successful in adding it to the civil rights measure, could be to choke the entire bill to death.

Some supporters of the Civil Rights Restoration Act admit to moral and religious misgivings on the subject of abortion. Others are outspokenly pro-choice. But most agree that the Hatch proposal is, with regard to the basic bill, a howling irrelevancy -- at worst an attempt to smother the bill, at best an attempt to make an end-run around the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decision.

Some lawyers who have studied the Hatch proposal say it amounts to an attempt to extend the provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to fetuses, which, whether that is a good thing or not, was never intended by the original act. The pressing concern of the sponsors of that act was discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin. Title IX prohibited sex discrimination in education. It may be that Hatch, too, would like to strengthen the government's role in eliminating sex and race discrimination. But from here, it sound a lot like "nice kitty."