The abortion procedure could be completed at home if the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) wins a challenge to current laws.
The UK’s largest abortion provider believes women should be able to take the second dose of tablets for an early medical abortion (EMA) at home, as is the case in other countries, such as the US, France and Sweden.
Under the current law, the first and second dose must be taken in a clinic or hospital under supervision. Most women go straight home after the second dose.
BPAS is seeking an amendment of the 1967 Abortion Act, but the Department of Health has said it will contest the High Court action, while pro-life campaigners said the move was designed to make abortion “little more than a pill-popping exercise”.
An EMA can be used up to nine weeks’ gestation and involves receiving pills in two stages.
On the first visit, women swallow one mifepristone tablet and are told to return to the clinic 24 to 48 hours later.
Women then receive a dose of four tablets (misoprostol), which are usually inserted vaginally, can be swallowed or are dissolved under the tongue or between the cheek and the gum.
Cramping and bleeding to bring about a miscarriage usually begins one to two hours after this dose but can start sooner in some cases. The abortion is usually completed within four to six hours.
The legal challenge by BPAS comes after decade-long talks broke down between ministers and experts at the charity.