RICHMOND, NOV. 7 -- Expert witnesses for A.H. Robins Co.'s outside stockholders faced rigorous cross-examination today in the continuing federal court hearing on conflicting proposals for compensating victims of the Dalkon Shield.

A key issue was whether government scientist Nancy Lee had exonerated the intrauterine contraceptive device from increasing the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can threaten a woman's life and impair her fertility.

A second major issue was whether the device was more likely than other IUDs to cause fatal spontaneous septic abortions in women who became pregnant while wearing shields.

Dr. Elton Kessel of Carlton, Ore., was the principal medical witness for the Equity Security Holders Committee, which represents nonfamily stockholders who control about 60 percent of Robins' common shares. Kessel praised the safety of IUDs and blamed spontaneous abortions on "faulty insertions of the shield."

He said he designed and conducted hundreds of clinical studies of IUDs, mostly when he was executive director of the Pathfinder fund, a family planning organization based in Boston. He testified that he last diagnosed a case of PID in 1960 and last inserted an IUD in 1966.

Kessel followed Dennis Haack, president of Statistical Consultants Inc. of Lexington, Ky. The two witnesses provided the basis of the outside stockholders' committee's proposal to pay $1.2 billion to 50,000 shield victims.

The company -- about 40 percent owned by the Robins family -- proposes to pay up to $1.15 billion. The Dalkon Shield claimant's committee seeks $4 billion to $7 billion.

The views of Lee, of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, are particularly sensitive because of a 1983 study she conducted that led the Food and Drug Administration to issue a call to physicians to remove shields from U.S. women still wearing them. Robins, at the FDA's request, had already ended sales of the IUD years earlier.

Lee's study showed rates of acute PID were several times higher in shield wearers than in women fitted with other IUDs.

On Friday, Dr. Herbert F. Sandmire, a medical witness for Robins, cited a new report by Lee in which, he said, Lee had refined the study data to isolate IUD users in stable, monogamous unions. She found "little appreciable risk" of PID in those women compared to women using no contraception, Sandmire said.

Today, Kessel echoed Sandmire's testimony.

Kessel said he was "impressed by the re-evaluation" Lee had made and gave the shield, along with other IUDs, a ringing endorsement for safety.

However, Wendell B. Alcorn Jr., a lawyer for the claimants' committee, told the court that the re-evaluation "did not change her {Lee's} views" about the shield's greater PID risks. "Absolutely not," he added, his voice rising.

Only an abstract of Lee's article was produced in court, but Alcorn said in an interview that he will produce evidence on Lee's position on the shield later in the hearing.

Kessel blamed fatal spontaneous septic abortions in shield users on "faulty insertions," mainly by physicians.

"Do you still believe that?" Alcorn asked.

"I still do," Kessel replied.

A few minutes later, Kessel, praising contraceptive devices generally, pointed out that "no septic abortion death in this country in an IUD user" has been reported since 1974. Alcorn then reminded Kessel that 1974 was the year that Robins pulled the shield off the market.

Fifteen U.S. shield wearers were reported to have died from spontaneous septic abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy

The suspect component was the tail string, which was unique because it had hundreds of nylon filaments encased in a nylon sheath. Scientists believe nylon rots when exposed for a prolonged period of time to bodily fluids.

Scientists also believe that bacteria penetrated the string in holes in deteriorated sheaths and then were "wicked" by capillary action into the germ-free uterus. They also believe that when the septic abortion abortion victims had become pregnant, it drew contaminated strings high into their uteruses.

While testifying to the device's safety, Kessel told Alcorn that he accepted laboratory evidence that shield strings wicked.