Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is under pressure from medics and health campaigners to allow women to take a medical abortion pill at home, bringing England into line with Scotland and Wales.
Representatives from 20 groups including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Fawcett Society have urged Mr Hunt to consider the "simple measure", arguing that it "would improve the wellbeing of women".
Women must take two pills for a medical abortion, ideally a few days apart. The second drug, misoprostol, is also used in the management of incomplete miscarriage, for which it can be taken at home. But under the 1967 Abortion Act, pregnancies can be terminated only "in a place approved for the purposes . . . by the secretary of state", requiring women to make a second trip to a clinic.
Mr Hunt's counterparts in Scotland and Wales are to consider women's homes to be such places.
It is not uncommon for women to suffer bleeding and cramping on the way home — sometimes on public transport — after taking misoprostol.
Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and a signatory to the letter, said: "Jeremy Hunt must set aside his own — frankly concerning — views on women's reproductive rights and recognise that women cannot have equality until they exercise control over their own bodies."
A change in policy is supported by Labour, whose shadow public health minister, Sharon Hodgson, said: "It is unacceptable that women are being left in agony in public because they have to take the pills outside of their home."
This is not the first time Mr Hunt has come under fire for his position on abortions. In 2012, he was lambasted after saying that he favoured reducing their time limit to 12 weeks.