MOSCOW (AP) _ Four women who began a hunger strike March 20 to demand the return of a provincial church to religious use were hauled off the church steps Saturday by police and ambulance personnel, a human rights activist said.

Alexander Ogorodnikov, editor of the Bulletin and Chronicle newspaper in Moscow, said the four women have refused even water in their fast in Ivanovo, 150 miles northeast of Moscow.

Before dawn Saturday, six carloads of police and ambulance personnel took the women to a local hospital after taking them away from the church, where they have been since last month. Their relatives have been denied access to them, Ogorodnikov said.

The women want the church, built in 1914 and known as the Vedenskaya or Krasni Church, returned to religious use. Since 1938, it has housed the city archives, which are soon to be moved to a new building.

Most churches in the Soviet Union are closed or used for non-religious purposes. However, a few, most notably the cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania, have been returned to use as churches in the past year as President Mikhail Gorbachev eases restrictions on the practice of religion.

Ogorodnikov quoted the local Communist Party Chief, identified only as Knyazuk, as saying the hunger strikers could continue for a year but the church would never be returned for worship.

The women were identified as Valeria Savchenko, 41, a cleaning woman; Larissa Kholina, 53, a dentist; her daughter, Margarita Spelenkova, 28; and Galina Yeshukovskaya, 43, a lawyer.

The hunger strike began March 20 at an Ivanovo movie theater with eight people, but two men and two women dropped out. The strikers were forcibly removed, tossed in trucks and taken to the steps of the church, where a wooden fence was erected and a policeman stationed to prevent them from talking to the the public, the activist said.

Ivanova, with a population of 500,000, currently has one active church large enough for 300 people, Ogorodnikov said.