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China greets conferees with abortion clinic on wheels

A mobile abortion clinic - a white van equipped with a bed, body clamp and suction pumps - rolled up to an international population conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

It was one of 600 that China plans to send cruising around the countryside to help control the growth of its 1.2 billion-strong population.Western experts at the conference said China commonly uses coercion to persuade women to terminate their pregnancies - a charge Chinese officials denied.

The issue arouses intense emotion among Western critics of China's human rights record, particularly the religious right in the United States.

Several international researchers at the conference said that while Chinese women may no longer be dragged screaming into abortion clinics, more subtle forms of coercion were widely used against women with unapproved pregnancies.

These included fines and the threat of demotion in the workplace.

"In reality every effort is made to convince couples to terminate their unauthorized births," Joan Kaufman, an officer with the U.S. Ford Foundation, said in a speech.

Chinese officials denied the government forced women to abandon their pregnancies.

"No, there is no forced abortion in China," said Gao Ersheng, director of the Shanghai Institute of Planned Parenthood Research.

"The government criticizes people who give women coercive abortion," said Zheng Xiaoying of Beijing University's Institute of Population Research. Officially, China's policy is to encourage the use of contraception.

Outside the conference building in the Chinese capital, the rear door of the abortion van was thrown open for inspection by the 1,400 delegates.

"We plan to make 600 of these buses to travel around the countryside," said Zhou Zhengxiang, the vice general manager of China Triple-U High Technology Industrial Group, which manufactures the vehicle.

China, home to one-fifth of humanity, began its tough control on family size in the late 1970s to rein in excessive population growth, a leftover of the baby boom period under Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s.