RICHMOND -- Amid the routine introductions of visiting dignitaries and schoolchildren in the House gallery one morning last month was a woman's story that caught lawmakers' attention. Her daughter, they were told, died of an illegal abortion. She chose not to have a legal abortion because the law in her state required notification of her parents.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Manassas) leapt to his feet. The woman's story, he announced, was a fabrication. Autopsy results found no evidence of an abortion, he declared.

A shocked silence fell over the chamber. Delegates looked at each other in disbelief. Marshall had called the mother of the dead girl a liar.

Marshall, 48, has called a lot of attention to himself in his first term in the Virginia House of Delegates. Since he was sworn in last year, he has become a constant presence on the floor, crusading against abortion, Norplant, sex education, feminists and "eco-terrorists"; challenging rulings by the speaker; and even proposing constitutional amendments.

It's not just his brand of arch-conservative politics that has distinguished him, but also his brash disregard for the old Richmond maxim that freshmen are better seen and not heard.

"He's so far off to the right as far as I'm concerned," said Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria). "He really has an agenda, and he tries to inject it into everything."

Another Democrat refers to Marshall as "the delegate from Mars." A fellow Republican calls Marshall's section of the House chamber the "Amen Corner." One day on the floor, a Republican delegate approached a Democrat in the back of the chamber and offered to trade Marshall, a suggestion quickly declined.

All that's just fine with Marshall. If he has to ruffle a few feathers to make a point, so be it.

With his mussed hair and disheveled look, Marshall makes more floor speeches, offers more amendments and tries more parliamentary maneuvers than most lawmakers with 10 times his experience. And every time, he insists on a roll call vote.

"I know that I'm not going to win every time in terms of {getting} 51 votes," the minimum needed to win, he said. "But every time I get a recorded vote, I win, because then I've got an instrument to affect policy."

As for the time he disputed the guest whose daughter had died, he said he had an obligation to set the record straight. The woman, Karen Bell, of Indianapolis, makes frequent public appearances on behalf of abortion-rights groups and steadfastly maintains that the illegal abortion killed her daughter, Rebecca, 17, in 1988. Supporters of limits on abortion say doctors have examined the autopsy report and found no evidence of an abortion.

"To use this poor girl's death in this way . . . is to trade on people's ignorance out here, and that's unconscionable," Marshall said.

To many conservatives, Marshall is a breath of fresh air. Unlike so many go-along-to-get-along Republicans, conservatives say, Marshall is willing to challenge what they believe is an arrogant Democratic majority.

Anne B. Kincaid, of the antiabortion Family Foundation, calls Marshall the salt of the earth -- and notes that salt often irritates.

"Bob Marshall reminds me of Patrick Henry," Kincaid said. "He's one who irritated them so much in the House that they made him governor to get rid of him. . . . Bob's a man of conviction who will boldly speak the truth."

To Democrats, though, he has become a lightning rod, and they make little secret of their disdain for him.

When he spoke against a resolution urging the importation of the French abortion drug RU-486, many Democrats left their desks and stood along the back wall of the House chamber in a display of disrespect.

They unceremoniously killed all but one of his 21 bills and resolutions in committee. The only one to make it to the floor -- an innocuous measure dealing with which agency should conduct the school census -- was initially killed on a voice vote until Marshall demanded a roll call vote, whereupon the Democrats backed down and let it pass.

In retribution, Senate Republicans killed a bill by Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge), whom they blamed for targeting Marshall's legislation. Brickley said he had nothing to do with Marshall's sparse record. "The simple truth in this case is that Mr. Marshall is doing it himself and needs no help from me," he said.

Even some Republicans are not friends. Asked for their assessment of him, most declined to speak for the record.

During his annual end-of-the-session speech last week, Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-McLean) joked that Marshall "mistakenly thought he had many enemies, when in fact it's his friends who don't like him."

Despite his sometimes strident style, Marshall has impressed many people with his intelligence and quick mastery of the House rules.

"He's a bright guy," said Majority Leader C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton). "When he gets focused on a problem, he's very good. But he gets out on the fringes there."

Marshall said it doesn't matter if his bills are killed because he shapes the debate. George Washington, he pointed out, didn't have great success in his first years in the Virginia legislature.

"If the father of the country doesn't get policy bills passed," he asked, "why in God's earth has it become a criteria for you to pass policy bills as a measure of effectiveness?"

A District native and former Catholic school teacher, Marshall was once a Kennedy Democrat who worked for a Democratic member of Congress. Like some others, though, he was alienated from his party by the George McGovern era, and eventually he went to work for Rep. Robert K. Dornan, the fiery conservative Republican from California.

He is now director of congressional relations for the American Life League, a group that opposes abortions even in cases of rape and incest. He is married and has five children; four of them are being schooled at home.

Marshall was elected in 1991 in western Prince William County in a heated campaign that focused on his antiabortion views. His Democratic opponent outspent him by more than half, but Marshall won with 58 percent of the vote.

For all his seriousness, Marshall is an engaging conversationalist and exhibits a wry sense of humor.

At one point, Marshall took to the floor in an unsuccessful attempt to remove money for Norplant birth control from the budget. The surgically implanted device, he said, was a eugenics tool to oppress the poor and minorities. To make his point, he mentioned that even liberal groups have expressed concern about the device.

"What do the National Organization for Women, the ACLU Reproductive Project, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Virginia head of the NAACP and Bob Marshall have in common?" he boomed in his speech.

There was a roar of laughter. "Not a thing!" shouted one Republican.

Marshall smiled. "It is suspect," he agreed, "that we live on the same planet."