AUGUST 15, 1994


Last year, after an abortion clinic physician was shot to death in Pensacola, Fla., antiabortion zealot Paul Hill called Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago. When Hill expressed sympathy with the killer, Scheidler and several aides took to the speaker phone to argue that murdering abortion providers was morally wrong. Scheidler recalls Hill's conclusion: ``I'll never pull the trigger.''

Scheidler says he was ``shocked out of my wits'' to learn of Hill's arrest for the recent murder of another Pensacola clinic physician and his bodyguard. Indeed, mainstream antiabortion crusaders insist that they are trying to head off trouble, but as hard as they try, they say, they cannot talk a tiny minority out of the idea that killing abortion providers is justifiable homicide.

To prevent more violence, the Justice Department last week put marshals on guard at a dozen clinics and intensified a probe into a possible conspiracy among antiabortion leaders. Abortion-rights activists lamented the slow response. Some also complained that only after the second Pensacola murder did organizations opposing abortion strongly condemn the violent among them.

Abortion foes vow to continue drawing that line among their colleagues, but they will not tone down their denunciations of ``baby killers'' that critics say encourage homicides. Says Scheidler: ``We're not going to change our rhetoric, but we will say that it's goofy to get a gun and murder a doctor.''