Boca Raton, Florida. -- As the U.S. Supreme Court reconsiders the Roe vs. Wade declaration that an American woman has a right to an abortion, and as ''pro-life'' and ''pro-choice'' forces go for each other's throats in Buffalo, N.Y., one thing seems clear:
This argument will never be resolved, because Americans can't agree as to what the argument is about, let alone the ground rules for either personal or legal confrontation.
We see on television a priest carrying in his hands what he says is an aborted fetus. Since he says that life begins at conception, he shouts that he is carrying a victim of ''murder.''
He is confronted by people who say fervently that there is no human being, and thus there cannot be a ''murder,'' until a fetus is ''viable,'' that is, able to live outside the mother's womb. The Supreme Court embraced this argument, fundamentally, in its Roe vs. Wade decision.
The gap between viewpoints is unbridgeable.
You might think abortion is an issue of religious dogma, that it is the Catholic Church and a few right-wing non-Catholic denominations that inspired Operation Rescue to go to Wichita, Kan., last summer and violate city laws, and now to Buffalo, to engage in whatever physical actions are necessary to close down abortion clinics.
Many prominent and ''ordinary'' Catholics say that no church dogma should rise above the principle that a woman is not the chattel of her husband, the slave of her church, the vassal of her government, and that she and she alone has the ultimate decision as to whether and how to use her reproductive system.
Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey is not among the Catholic defectors. The Democrat was in Washington on Wednesday supporting the state's attorney general, Republican Ernie Preate, who asked the high tribunal to validate a Pennsylvania law that would eviscerate Roe vs. Wade. Mr. Casey has eight children.
That wipes out another general assumption, that the abortion fight is mostly between ''permissive'' Democrats and ''straight'' Republicans. The most ardent supporters of family planning clinics and abortions-if-necessary that I have met in my life are female Republicans.
It clearly is not a racial issue, even though overthrowing Roe would force more black, Hispanic and poor women to have babies they do not want and cannot support than would be the case with relatively affluent white women. Conservative black Baptists and others oppose legal abortions.
The over-riding conclusion for me is this: Where the people cannot agree as to the religious dogma, the social priorities, the political requisites that undergird a national debate, it is not for the government to impose upon everyone its notions of what God prefers, or of social propriety or political correctness.
It is contrary to all the dreams of personal liberty that the founders of this nation sought for the government to decide that fetal tissue may not be used by medical researchers who seek cures for some of the most grotesque diseases known to man.
Government has no business telling doctors and nurses in clinics what they can say to a pregnant woman who may have life-endangering physical, and especially emotional, reasons not to carry a baby to term.
Government must regulate savings and loans, banks and stock markets. It should still be regulating the airlines and their fares, because there is no other way to protect the American people from the greed and corruption that are rampant in this society.
Government, through the Food and Drug Administration, has a proper role doing research, approving the good medicine and outlawing the useless and the dangerous, and telling women the level of danger involved in silicone gel breast implants.
But government has no right, in the absence of information that would dictate a total ban, to declare that one group of women cancer victims may get breast implants while another group of women who want their breasts inflated so they can get rich in topless bars may not.
Ronald Reagan and George Bush got it partly right in 1980, when they pledged to ''get government off the backs of the people.'' But the tragedy is that they were flamfloozling us.
Their bureaucratic minions dismissed the talk as part of a political con game, so they just won't get off the backs of America's women.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.