LONDON (AP) _ Doctors in the Netherlands reported Saturday they aborted three of five embryos in a woman carrying quintuplets so that she gave birth to only two babies.

In a letter to The Lancet, a British medical journal, doctors at University Hospital in Leiden said they aborted the 10-week-old embryos because the mother and her husband were distressed over the prospect of having quintuplets.

A British specialist said selective abortions, while not common, had been done previously in several countries.

The four-member Dutch team said the operation was performed on a 34-year- old woman, who had received hormones to stimulate conception. She already had one child, having undergone hormone treatment previously.

Ultrasound scanning revealed the woman was carrying quintuplets, rather than a single embryo, as the couple thought.

''This diagnosis caused considerable distress, and the couple asked for a termination of pregnancy,'' the doctors said. ''After full discussion, it was decided to attempt to reduce the quintuplet pregnancy to a twin pregnancy. This was done at 10 weeks' gestation.''

The doctors said they punctured the three embryos with a spinal needle in the region of the heart. They said the embryos were naturally absorbed and disposed of by the mother's body.

Eventually, two healthy baby girls were born and there was no adverse affect on the mother, the doctors said.

The letter, which was published Saturday but given to British news media in advance, did not state when the babies were born.

The Daily Telegraph, a conservative London newspaper, quoted Nuala Scarisbrick, administrator of the anti-abortion group Life, as criticizing both doctors and mother.

''Ethically it stinks,'' Ms. Scarisbrick was quoted as saying. ''What kind of doctor, who had gone to all the trouble of enabling the mother to become pregnant in the first place would then kill some of the babies he had made possible?

''If a woman wants to have a baby, she should do what women have always done and accept what comes,'' she added. ''Having found she was expecting quints, she should have carried on.''

Professor Ian Craft, director of the infertility clinic at Humana Hospital, Wellington, in London, said he would not dismiss a request for a multiple abortion out of hand.

He said women carrying quintuplets often lose all their babies. A selective termination might enable a woman to have twins with less risk to her own health.

''It would involve a great deal of discussion with the parents,'' he was quoted as saying, and ''it would be relevant to know how many children the couple already had.''

Another infertility specialist, Dr. Robert Winston, told The Associated Press that multiple abortions had been done in several countries, although the problem rarely arose and he had never had such a request.

Winston, director of obstetrics at London's Hammersmith Hospital, said the case posed a ''difficult ethical situation'' because quintuplet pregnancies are inherently risky for both the mother and the babies.

''The risk of losing all the babies is almost 50 percent if you don't do anything,'' he said.