IN AN ACT of astonishing recklessness, House Republicans are jeopardizing the institutions of what passes for world order just to showboat for anti-abortion voters who are going to swing the GOP's way in any event.

As they did last year, too, Speaker Newt Gingrich and the rest of the party leadership are letting anti-abortion absolutists hold U.S. support for the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations hostage to their one-note agenda.Never mind, apparently, that the IMF is keeping the economic undertow in Asian from sucking the American economy under as well. Or that the United Nations' involvement, or at least its indulgence, is crucial to myriad U.S. international interests, not least at the moment our interest in keeping Iraq's Saddam Hussein in a box.

What counts is the profoundly petty politics of jollying the GOP's ever-demanding anti-abortion wing and of making things tough for President Clinton by sticking him with strident legislation Congress knows he is bound to veto.

At immediate issue are the $1 billion in back dues that we owe the United Nations and $18 billion to shore up the strapped IMF.

The United Nations struggles to stay open for business while the fattest fat-cat nation is running up a bar tab all the other patrons have to cover. There was an excuse of sorts for that when the United Nations was refusing to reform its sloppy bureaucracy, but the new secretary general, Kofi Annan, has credible fixes under way.

The IMF funding would be divvied up between replenishing the fund's capital base ($14.5 billion) and creating an emergency line of credit ($3.5 billion). No nation is benefiting more from the IMF's rescue effort in Asia than we are, but once again we're getting by on the cheap while other nations pay up.

At larger issue is the question of whether the United States can in any way fulfill what ought to be understood as its natural leadership role in international institutions as long as Republicans keep trying to wag the world with their anti-abortion tail.

Senate Republicans are willing to forgo further policy blackmail; U.S. law already bars funding for overseas abortion services. But House Republicans insist on a return to the Reagan-Bush policy that withheld aid from any nongovernmental foreign organization that either performs abortions or lobbies for legal abortion even with its own money. That policy threw buckets of sand in endless international gears.

Overwrought, out of place anti-abortion demands are a worsening policy tick with the GOP. A GOP rump in an anti-abortion snit withheld make-or-break votes and joined union-toadying Democrats in killing an expansion of free trade. Anti-abortion riders have delayed State Department reorganization demanded by the GOP itself.

Such irresponsibility was bad enough last year when little was at immediate stake. But what was just annoying then has been made downright dangerous since by the Asian economic collapse and the appearance of Saddam II: Return of the Sociopath.

If Republicans ever want to be taken seriously about foreign policy again, they will have to go back to being serious with it themselves.