The United Nations Population Fund says it fears thousands of women and children could die because of the U.S. government decision to withhold $34 million earmarked for its programs.

The U.N. Population Fund says the loss of $34 million will be devastating for women and families in the world's poorest countries.

The fund runs family planning programs in 142 countries, providing contraception and gynecological services and programs for preventing teen-pregnancy and HIV-AIDS.

The agency's chief of media services, Kristin Hetle, said the U.S. contribution would have allowed the agency to prevent two million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, more than 77,000 infant and child deaths, and 4,700 maternal deaths.

"As we speak, we have been speaking now for 40 minutes," she said. "During that time, on average, 40 women have died of pregnancy-related causes. Every minute a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes. That is 500,000 a year, and 99 percent of them are from the developing world."

The United States says it is withholding the money because the U.N. Population Fund supports coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization programs in China. It says evidence gathered by a U.S. fact-finding mission to China in May persuaded it to withhold its $34 million contribution to the agency.

Ms. Hetle said the U.S. investigators actually found no evidence that the organization is involved in coercive activities and recommended that the United States support its programs. She stressed the U.N. Population Fund does not support or promote abortion anywhere in the world. Instead, she said, the agency's programs help reduce the incidence of abortion.

"Yes, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) is working in China," she went on to say. "We are working with the Chinese government. That is correct. We are working with them in 32 counties to move their policies and practices away from coercion and toward a voluntary approach that respects human rights and human dignity and that is in line with international agreements."

Ms. Hetle pointed out the U.N. agency spends $3.5 million out of its annual budget of $274 million for programs in China. She said past U.S. administrations have supported the organization on condition that no U.S. money be spent in China. She said the fund has honored this agreement by putting U.S. money into a separate account.