CHICAGO (AP) _ A major abortion-rights case that the state attorney general feared would be used by the U.S. Supreme Court to restrict abortions has been settled, the state announced Wednesday.

The settlement would guarantee women continued access to abortions in Illinois, said Dr. Bernard Turnock, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Attorney General Neil Hartigan said for the settlement to stand, the high court would have to delay a scheduled hearing in the case and refer it back to the U.S. District Court in Chicago, which would have to approve the settlement.

''We have reached the goal we set at the beginning of our negotiations,'' Hartigan said. ''The principals in this case ... have created a system that protects a woman's health and safety while exercising her right of choice.''

Hartigan and some abortion rights forces had feared that without a settlement, the Supreme Court might use the case to completely overturn its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.

The settlement proposes to resolve a legal challenge to Illinois regulations that set elaborate rules for building codes and other requirements for abortion clinics.

Turnock said at a news conference that the settlement will ''refine or refocus'' the current regulations governing abortion clinics ''to dispense with those that are unnecessary, inappropriate or excessive.''

Ann-Louise Lohr, staff counsel to the Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund, said the anti-abortion group was ''extremely disappointed'' that Hartigan didn't let the case go to the Supreme Court.

She called the settlement a ''backroom deal that will compromise the ability of all states to protect the health and safety of women.''

But Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, said, ''I think it is very clear that Neil Hartigan has read the message of the majority of voters on the whole question of the right of a woman to control her reproductive'' choices.

The agreement will modify Illinois abortion-clinic regulations challenged in 1985 by Dr. Richard Ragsdale of Rockford, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Ragsdale, who had lost his lease in his building and been unable to find new office space that met the old codes, argued that the requirements for non- hospital surgical centers were medically unnecessary and forced him to build the equivalent of a small hospital for a simple procedure.

He maintained the regulations were a veiled attempt by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Turnock to restrict women's access to abortion in the state.

Four years ago, Ragsdale won a preliminary injunction against Illinois' existing regulations in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Barred from enforcing the regulations, Turnock and Hartigan's office appealed, arguing that the rules are necessary to protect women's health.

In 1987, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Ragsdale, upholding the lower court's ruling and agreeing that the regulations place an unconstitutional restriction on women's right to undergo abortion.

The requirements include 250-square-foot surgical rooms, some corridor widths of eight feet, lounges, lockers and separate toilets for male and female employees and a janitor's closet adjoining the surgical suite.

Under the modified rules, abortion clinics would not be required to modify their buildings in any significant way, said ACLU attorney Colleen K. Connell.

''Will the price of an abortion go up?'' she asked. ''No.''

In addition, abortions will continue to be performed by private physicians in their offices, by doctors at walk-in surgical clinics and by physicians at full-service hospitals, officials said.

But walk-in surgical centers that perform abortions as their sole or majority business will be subject to inspections beginning as early as next year by the Department of Public Health, Turnock said.

Surgical centers whose sole business is abortions will be limited to performing them before the 18th week of pregnancy. Surgical centers licensed to perform both abortions and other outpatient procedures may perform them after 18 weeks, he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case on July 3, and had scheduled oral arguments for Dec. 5.

Abortion rights groups have said that if the Supreme Court upheld the rules for Illinois, other states might take it as a signal to adopt similar restrictions.

A survey released last week indicated 98 percent of abortion clinics nationwide would be violating at least one of the Illinois rules if they were adopted by the clinics' home states.

Three-fourths of the clinics said the regulation would force them to relocate and could drive them out of business, according to the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood, the groups that released the results.

''With the agreement reached today,'' Hartigan said, ''we believe that we now have a system that addresses the public health concerns relating to abortions performed in ambulatory surgical clinics.''

The Supreme Court is also expected to rule in July on an Ohio law that requires doctors to notify one parent of unmarried, minor girls before performing abortions.