"This notification" in the words of AID Director M. Peter McPherson, "is an advance of family planning overall." The language is pure George Orwell. "Modification" means a 180-degree shift in policy. "Advance" means retreat. And "director," in Mr. McPherson's case, means the one who had his arm twisted until he adopted a policy that presumably he knows is wrong.

The policy is this: AID proposes to support, to the tune of $20 million over five years, so-called "natural family planning" programs in the Third World. Current programs, which cost about $7 million yearly, help women in Third World countries control the size of their families by providing information about all forms of birth control -- but not abortion. They don't impose any o method, but let the recipients choose.

The natural family planning alternative is promoted by people who believe that not only abortion but any artificial birth control method is morally wrong. That belief is rejected by the majority of Americans, who in most cases have access to plenty of information about the various alternatives. We see nothing wrong in AID programs offering the not-so-reliable rhythm method as one of several alternatives. But natural family planning advocates' programs would also withhold information about other, usually more effective methods that use artificial devices. That is bad policy. It is unfair to recipients who are denied information and free choice.

Domestically, this amounts to surrender to a small lobby on the far right whose views command little support among the great mass of Americans. Abroad, it tends to undermine a successful and much needed program.

The issue isn't whether natural family planning groups have a right to advocate their position -- of course they do. Nor is the issue whether the method of birth control they prefer should be presented as one of several alternatives -- that might be a good idea. The issue is whether AID should finance family planning programs that withhold useful information from recipients and prevent them from exercising a free and informed choice. That is neither a modification" nor an "advance," whatever Mr. McPherson professes to believe.