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Marshals cut back on abortion clinic duty

U.S. marshals have scaled back their presence at a pair of Pensacola abortion clinics where two doctors were slain by protesters.

Marshals will continue to check on the clinics, particularly on days when abortions are scheduled, said Dave Branham, a spokesman with the U.S. Marshals Service. But they no longer will be posted outside the facilities around-the-clock as they had been for the past 11 months.

The Pensacola facilities are among six abortion clinics around the nation that lost full-time protection last week, Branham said Friday.

"We feel that the security requirements for those locations no longer require our presence," Branham said. "We're still very much providing a presence at the clinics, just on a reduced level."

The decision was based on a Justice Department study of clinic security and limited resources of the Marshals Service, Branham said.

The marshals will not disclose which clinics they have been guarding or how many deputies work them, but their presence has been obvious at both Pensacola clinics.

The draw-down has one clinic administrator worried.

"It's not so much the marshals leaving; it's the trend," said Sandra Sheldon, co-administrator of Pensacola Medical Services. "We have had nothing but cooperation from the Pensacola Police Department. They have always been there. I don't feel like without marshals there, we're any less protected."

Sheldon's clinic was where abortion opponent Michael Griffin fatally shot Dr. David Gunn on March 10, 1993, as the physician got out of his car behind the clinic. Two city police officers were inside the building and protesters were marching in front of it at the time of the shooting.

Last July 29, former minister Paul Hill used a shotgun to kill Dr. John Bayard Britton and his elderly and unarmed escort, James Barrett, a retired Air Force officer, as they drove up to the Ladies Center, another Pensacola clinic.

Both Hill and Griffin were convicted of murder. Griffin is serving a life prison term and Hill is awaiting death in Florida's electric chair. Both have appealed.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered marshals to provide security at the two clinics and 10 others around the nation following the Ladies Center slayings.