AP 07/30 14:09 EDT V0786 1994.

The Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- It's a cosmopolitan center at the base of the Bible Belt, a city that beams with pride at its Spanish colonial heritage, its sun-bleached beaches off the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its distinction as the cradle of naval aviation. But after the second slaying in 17 months of a doctor outside an abortion clinic, after four bombings, after countless confrontations that have become routine, Pensacola is also the national flashpoint in the abortion wars.

"We've become a kind of magnet for a small group of terrorists. It's one thing after another," said Dallas A. Blanchard, associate professor of sociology at the University of West Florida and a United Methodist minister.

Blanchard, co-author of the book "Religious Violence And Abortion: The Gideon Project," echoed the horror of many Pensacolans to Friday's latest bloodletting: "Oh, no. Not again. Not here."

But he added: "It's not a reflection of the community. It's a reflection of a small minority drawn here for terrorism -- a political act designed to place fear in the operators of abortion clinics and the physicians who work there. It's working."

Blanchard described the city -- with its metropolitan population of 344,000 located in Florida's western panhandle near the Alabama border - - as the "most liberal community east of New Orleans on the eastern Gulf Coast."

It attracts a diverse mix of visitors -- tourists who sunbathe on the sugar -white sand, visitors to the Naval Air Station where the U.S. Navy trains pilots, college kids who frequent the city's trendy hangouts and seafood restaurants.

Yet politics are historically conservative here, where the Spanish first attempted to colonize Florida in 1559 and the area has been under the dominion of the Spanish, French, British, Confederate and U.S. flags.

And its religious roots are deep. Church listings span eight pages of the Yellow Pages, including one church that sits across from a topless bar. One stretch of highway leading from Alabama reportedly has one church per mile.

Its most notorious landmark now, however, is the Ladies Center, a two-story abortion clinic dwarfed by towering oak trees on the city's northern edge near the municipal airport.

On Friday, the day abortions are performed, Dr. John B. Britton - - wearing a bulletproof vest -- and a bodyguard, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Barrett, were shot in the head and killed. Barrett's wife, June, was wounded. All of them sat in a silver pickup truck that had just pulled into the clinic's parking lot.

Britton had succeeded Dr. David Gunn, a center doctor, who was murdered on March 10, 1993, at another Pensacola clinic.

The Ladies Center was also bombed on June 24, 1984, and was one of three sites blown up on Christmas Day of that year in what four convicted participants called "a birthday gift for Jesus."

Six protesters were arrested there in 1986 after they raided the center, which is protected by an eight-foot high wooden fence and adjoined by a triangle of ground called the Holy Innocents Plot erected "In memorial to over 26 million babies murdered since 1973 in the American holocaust."

The man held in Friday's slayings -- Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister and a father of three who moved to Pensacola three years ago - - was a regular Friday demonstrator outside the Ladies Center.

Among the anti-abortion literature he has distributed was an "Unwanted" poster -- listing Britton's picture, age, address, history and the script: "This man has murdered thousands of unborn children, therefore, he is guilty of shedding innocent blood."

(A similar poster was distributed before the murder of Dr. Gunn, whose slaying was described by Hill as "justifiable homicide." And when another doctor who performed abortions was slain in an incident unrelated to the abortion debate, Hill said: "God can use a crooked stick to strike a straight blow.")

The bloodshed has sickened Mayor John Fogg, who assumed office on an interim basis the day of the double slayings.

"It's an aberration, the work of a small group of radicals trying to maximize exposure. For this to happen to our community is a great affront. All of us resent that one person has brought this to bear on our community," Fogg said. "Both the clinic and the city have done everything they possibly can to prevent this kind of thing from happening."

Civic leaders grappled with solutions that would stop future bloodletting - - such as establishing a buffer zone around the abortion clinic or keeping better surveillance on radicals -- and heal the community's wounds.

"We don't need to have the reputation as a Dodge City or Tombstone," said state Sen. W.D. Childers, who gave his support to any measure that would prevent violence at abortion clinics.

Those on opposite sides of the debate were openly shaken at Friday's violence.

"It's like we're in Beirut and we don't know who'll snipe at us," said Marcia Norcutt, personnel director at the North Florida Women's Health and Counseling Services.

"This is a war zone," said Pat Mitchell, administrator for the Center for Choice in Mobile, Ala.

And Bishop John Smith of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Roman Catholic Diocese said: "How anyone who claims to be pro-life can deliberately take a human life defies logic and flies in the face of divine law."