Mainland Chinese women in the late stages of pregnancy will be turned away at Hong Kong's borders unless they have an appointment at a city hospital, officials said Tuesday, in a bid to control the number of expectant mothers who cross the border to give birth.

Starting February, mainland Chinese women who have been pregnant for seven months or more will be banned from entering Hong Kong if they cannot show proof of an appointment, said Patrick Nip, deputy secretary for Health, Welfare and Food. The measure was designed to curb a surge of mainland mothers who have overwhelmed Hong Kong hospitals with last-minute admissions.

The number of births by mainland Chinese women in Hong Kong nearly doubled from 10,128 in 2003 to 19,538 in 2005, according to the Hospital Authority. Many come to evade China's one-child policy, take advantage of the reasonably priced health care facilities, or earn citizenship rights for their babies.

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Most do not make advance bookings with Hong Kong hospitals, choosing instead to rush to emergency wards at the last minute. Some return to the mainland leaving behind large hospital debts.

Under the new measure, mainland Chinese mothers must pay double the fee to give birth in Hong Kong hospitals. Medical staff stationed at border control points will help examine pregnant women, an immigration official said.

"If there's a need to ascertain whether a woman is pregnant or not, medical staff would be at hand to provide assistance," said David Chiu, an assistant immigration director.

According to officials, pregnant women of other nationalities are not subject to the measures because their numbers are relatively small.

Some are worried the proposed measures could spark discrimination.

"Why is it just Chinese women, not women from other places? Pregnant women may also have legitimate reasons for coming to Hong Kong," said Law Yuk-kai with the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.