Portrait of Professor Ellie Lee

Professor Ellie Lee

Professor of Family and Parenting Research
Director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies


Professor Ellie Lee joined the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) as a member of staff in 2004, having researched her PhD thesis in the late 1990s as a student in the Centre for Women’s Studies in the school. From 2000 to 2004, she was a lecturer at Southampton University and then a research fellow there working on a study about teenage pregnancy and abortion. 

In 2010, with colleagues from the University of Kent, Professor Lee set up the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies as a research network concerned with the way “parenting” has been constructed as a social problem in Britain and in many other countries and she frequently discusses her research in the media.

Research interests

Professor Lee’s PhD thesis considered the development and effects of the claim made by those who oppose legal abortion that many women suffer from a “post abortion syndrome” after they terminate a pregnancy. After completing her PhD, she carried out a comparative analysis of the abortion issue in the US and Britain, investigated what has been termed ‘the syndrome society’, and considered the ways in which the emotional effects of birth and the early stages of parenthood have been ‘medicalised’. She became influenced by social constructionist sociology, in particular by what has been termed ‘contextual constructionism’, and persuaded by the insights this approach offers for understanding social problems and the development of policy. The outcome of this work and thinking was published in 2003 as 'Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the U.S. and Britain'. 

Professor Lee's longest standing research area is abortion policy and provision. Over the past decade she has led research projects funded by organisations, including the Economic and Social Research Council, on feeding babies, ‘no drinking’ advice for pregnant women, welfare of the child assessments in IVF clinics, and ‘neuroparenting’ policies.  

Professor Lee's current research explores why everyday issues, for example, how mothers feed their babies, turn into major preoccupations for policy makers and become heated topics of wider public debate. The work she does draws on constructionist theories of social problems and sociological concepts such as 'risk consciousness' and 'medicalisation' to analyse the evolution of family policy and health policy.   


Professor Lee teaches social policy modules concerned with the family, parenting culture and reproductive health at undergraduate and postgraduate level.


Contact Professor Lee if you are interested in researching any aspect of social or policy developments related to reproductive health, motherhood or parenting.



Showing 50 of 62 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.


  • Lee, E., Sheldon, S. and Macvarish, J. (2018). The 1967 Abortion Act fifty years on: Abortion, medical authority and the law revisited. Social Science and Medicine [Online] 212:26-32. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.07.010.
    The recent 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act provides the opportunity to
    revisit what has been termed the ‘remarkable authority’ this Act ascribes to doctors.
    This paper does so using as its starting point a seminal commentary on this question
    by the renowned medical sociologist Sally Macintyre, published in this journal in
    1973 as ‘The Medical Profession and the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain’. We revisit
    themes from that paper through an analysis of the findings of interviews with 14
    doctors who, throughout lengthy careers, have provided abortions and led the
    development of the abortion service in England and Wales. We contrast our findings
    with Macintyre’s, and argue that our interviews highlight the shifting meaning of
    medical authority and medical professionalism. We show that those doctors most
    involved in providing abortions place moral value on this work; uphold the authority
    of women (not doctors) in abortion decision-making; view nurses and midwives as
    professional collaborators; and consider their professional and clinical judgement
    impeded by the present law. We conclude that medical sociologists have much to gain
    by taking abortion provision as a focus for the further exploration of the shifting meaning of medical authority.
  • Lee, E. (2017). Constructing abortion as a social problem: “Sex selection” and the British abortion debate. Feminism and Psychology [Online] 27:15-33. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959353516678010.
    Between February 2012 and March 2015, the claim that sex selection abortion was taking place in Britain and that action needed to be taken to stop it dominated debate in Britain about abortion. Situating an analysis in sociological and social psychological approaches to the construction of social problems, particularly those considering “feminised” re-framings of anti-abortion arguments, this paper presents an account of this debate. Based on analysis of media coverage, Parliamentary debate and official documents, we focus on claims about grounds (evidence) made to sustain the case that sex selection abortion is a British social problem and highlight how abortion was problematised in new ways. Perhaps most notable, we argue, was the level of largely unchallenged vilification of abortion doctors and providers, on the grounds that they are both law violators and participants in acts of discrimination and violence against women, especially those of Asian heritage. We draw attention to the role of claims made by feminists in the media and in Parliament about “gendercide” as part of this process and argue that those supportive of access to abortion need to critically assess both this aspect of the events and also consider arguments about the problems of “medical power” in the light of what took place.
  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2017). ‘After the ‘need for….a father’: ‘The welfare of the child’ and ‘supportive parenting’ in UK assisted conception clinics’. Families, Relationships and Societies [Online] 6:71-87. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/204674315X14303090462204.
    The law governing assisted conception in the United Kingdom (UK) (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990) mandates through section 13(5) that clinicians make ‘child welfare’ assessments before proceeding with treatment. In the 1990 Act, section 13(5) stated that assessment should take into account ‘the need … for a father’, but in section 13(5) of a revised Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008 the words ‘a father’ were replaced with ‘supportive parenting’ in order to signal official recognition of same-sex parents. This article challenges the idea that this might be seen as an unequivocally progressive development through reference to a growing body of scholarship that critically evaluates the attention that policy makers have come to pay to ‘parenting’. It discusses the sociopolitical context that gave rise to section 13(5) and the pressures that led to its reform. Findings from an interview study with members of staff who work in assisted conception clinics in the UK are then discussed, focusing on staff’s perceptions of the new policy, the meanings they ascribe to the term ‘supportive parenting’ and their opinions about the responsibility they are given under law for child welfare. The article concludes that professionals’ understandings of their role resonate strongly with the wider realities of the oversight of parent–child relations considered characteristic of policies on parenting.
  • Lee, E., Sutton, R. and Hartley, B. (2016). From scientific paper to press release to media coverage: Advocating alcohol abstinence and democratising risk in a story about alcohol and pregnancy. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 18:247-269. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2016.1229758.
    In this article, we follow the approach taken by Riesch and Spiegalhalter in “Careless pork costs lives’: Risk stories from science to press release to media’ published in this journal, and offer an assessment of one example of a ‘risk story’. Using content and thematic qualitative analysis, we consider how the findings of an article ‘Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study’ were framed in the article itself, the associated press release, and the subsequent extensive media coverage. We contextualise this consideration of a risk story by discussing a body of work that critically engages with the development and global proliferation of efforts to advocate for alcohol abstinence to pregnant (and pre-pregnant) women. This work considers the ‘democratisation’ of risk, a term used to draw attention to the expansion of the definition of the problem of drinking in pregnancy to include any drinking and all women. We show here how this risk story contributed a new dimension to the democratisation of risk through claims that were made about uncertainty and certainty. A central argument we make concerns the contribution of the researchers themselves (not just lobby groups or journalists) to this outcome. We conclude that the democratisation of risk was advanced in this case not simply through journalists exaggerating and misrepresenting research findings, but that communication to the press and the initial interpretation of findings played their part. We suggest that this risk story raises concerns about the accuracy of reporting of research findings, and about the communication of unwarrantedly worrying messages to pregnant women about drinking alcohol.
  • Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). Biologising parenting: neuroscience discourse, English social and public health policy and understandings of the child. Sociology of Health & Illness [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1111/1467-9566.12223.
    In recent years, claims about children's developing brains have become central to the formation of child health and welfare policies in England. While these policies assert that they are based on neuro-scientific discoveries, their relationship to neuroscience itself has been debated. However, what is clear is that they portray a particular understanding of children and childhood, one that is marked by a lack of acknowledgment of child personhood. Using an analysis of key government-commissioned reports and additional advocacy documents, this article illustrates the ways that the mind of the child is reduced to the brain, and this brain comes to represent the child. It is argued that a highly reductionist and limiting construction of the child is produced, alongside the idea that parenting is the main factor in child development. It is concluded that this focus on children's brains, with its accompanying deterministic perspective on parenting, overlooks children's embodied lives and this has implications for the design of children's health and welfare services.
  • Sheldon, S., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). 'Supportive Parenting’, Responsibility and Regulation: The Welfare Assessment under the Reformed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990). The Modern Law Review [Online] 78:461-492. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-2230.12124.
    Section 13(5) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 requires fertility clinics, before offering regulated treatment services, to take account of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment and any other child affected by that birth. This paper presents the findings of an empirical study examining the impact on practice of the controversial reform of this section in 2008. While the broad values underpinning section 13(5) appear well embedded in clinic staff's engagement with ethical issues, there is little evidence that practice has been influenced by the 2008 amendments. A complex picture emerged regarding the implementation of section 13(5), particularly in its interaction with other factors, such as funding criteria and professional norms around counselling, implying a higher level of ongoing attention to likely parenting ability – particularly that of single women – than might be expected from a reading of the statute and guidance alone.
  • Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Macvarish, J. (2015). Growing better brains? Pregnancy and neuroscience discourses in English social and welfare policies. Health, Risk & Society [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2014.994479.
    In recent years, English welfare and health policy has started to include pregnancy
    within the foundation stage of child development. The foetus is also increasingly
    designated as ‘at risk’ from pregnant women. In this article, we draw on an analysis
    of a purposive sample of English social and welfare policies and closely related
    advocacy documents to trace the emergence of neuroscientific claims-making in
    relation to the family. In this article, we show that a specific deterministic understanding
    of the developing brain that only has a loose relationship with current
    scientific evidence is an important component in these changes. We examine the
    ways in which pregnancy is situated in these debates. In these debates, maternal stress
    is identified as a risk to the foetus; however, the selective concern with women living
    in disadvantage undermines biological claims. The policy claim of neurological ‘critical
    windows’ also seems to be influenced by social concerns. Hence, these emerging
    concerns over the foetus’ developing brain seem to be situated within the gendered
    history of policing women’s pregnant bodies rather than acting on new insights from
    scientific discoveries. By situating these developments within the broader framework
    of risk consciousness, we can link these changes to wider understandings of the ‘at
    risk’ child and intensified surveillance over family life.
  • Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2015). Neuroscience and family policy: What becomes of the parent? Critical Social Policy [Online]:1-22. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0261018315574019.
    This article discusses the findings of a study tracing the incorporation of
    claims about infant brain development into English family policy as part
    of the longer term development of a ‘parent training’, early intervention
    agenda. The main focus is on the ways in which the deployment of
    neuroscientific discourse in family policy creates the basis for a new
    governmental oversight of parents. We argue that advocacy of ‘early
    intervention’, in particular that which deploys the authority of ‘the neuroscience’,
    places parents at the centre of the policy stage but simultaneously
    demotes and marginalises them. So we ask, what becomes of
    the parent when politically and culturally, the child is spoken of as infinitely
    and permanently neurologically vulnerable to parental influence?
    In particular, the policy focus on parental emotions and their impact on
    infant brain development indicates that this represents a biologisation
    of ‘therapeutic’ governance.
  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2014). Assessing Child Welfare under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008: A Case Study in Medicalization? Sociology of Health & Illness [Online] 36:500-515. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12078.
    This article reports findings from a study of interviews with 66 members of staff working in assisted conception clinics in the UK about their experience of making ‘welfare of the child’ (WOC) assessments pre-conception. This aspect of the provision of infertility treatment services is obligatory under section 13(5) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. This provision was amended in 2008 and the primary aim of the study was to find out how this change had impacted on practice. In describing what we found, we also make a contribution to scholarship about the medicalization of reproduction. Section 13(5) has often been discussed as a prime example of medicalization, as it gives clinics power to grant or deny access to infertility treatment on wide ranging ‘child welfare’ grounds, encompassing far more than purely clinical considerations. Yet while such medicalization may be entrenched in the law, our findings suggest this power is used in a very ‘light touch’ way, with clinics explicitly directed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that they should operate with a presumption to treat. Further, while our interviewees offered near-universal support for the need to consider child welfare before offering treatment, this is now justified by concerns which focus not on family form (e.g. the need for a father figure) but more on the quality of interactions and relationships between parents and children. In this light, and by virtue of the fact that a wide variety of clinic staff share the gatekeeping role with doctors, we suggest that the concept of medicalization may offer a rather blunt tool for understanding a far more complex reality.
  • Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2014). The ‘First Three Years’ Movement and the Infant Brain: A Review of Critiques. Sociology Compass [Online] 8:792-804. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12183.
    This article reviews a particular aspect of the critique of the increasing focus on the brain and neuroscience; what has been termed by some, ‘neuromania’. It engages with the growing literature produced in response to the ‘first three years’ movement: an alliance of child welfare advocates and politicians that draws on the authority of neuroscience to argue that social problems such as inequality, poverty, educational underachievement, violence and mental illness are best addressed through ‘early intervention’ programmes to protect or enhance emotional and cognitive aspects of children's brain development. The movement began in the United States in the early 1990s and has become increasingly vocal and influential since then, achieving international legitimacy in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and elsewhere. The movement, and the brain-based culture of expert-led parent training that has grown with it, has been criticised for claiming scientific authority whilst taking a cavalier approach to scientific method and evidence; for being overly deterministic about the early years of life; for focusing attention on individual parental failings rather than societal or structural problems, for adding to the expanding anxieties of parents and strengthening the intensification of parenting and, ultimately, for redefining the parent–child relationship in biologised, instrumental and dehumanised terms.
  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2013). The role of counsellors in infertility clinics. BioNews [Online]. Available at: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_249841.asp?hlight=The+role+of+counsellors+in+infertility+clinics.
    Counselling has become an increasingly central – and sometimes mandatory – part of the provision of infertility treatment services in the UK, although its role is not always clearly defined. In a recent research project, we interviewed 66 staff, with different roles at 20 clinics that provide infertility treatment services (around one quarter of the total). Our research offered some interesting insights into the role of counsellors in this process.
  • Lee, E. (2013). Whither Abortion Policy in Britain? Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare [Online] 39:5-8. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jfprhc-2012-100373.
    This commentary discusses the current
    situation regarding Government policy
    on abortion in Britain. It begins by
    setting out the ways in which the policy
    of the Coalition Government appears to
    differ from that of the New Labour
    administration. The article notes that
    2012 brought furious debate about abortion
    services, focusing on counselling,
    ‘sex-selection’ abortion, signing of HSA1
    forms and, most recently, the upper time
    limit, and discusses what has emerged to
    date from these furores. Finally, thoughts
    are offered on how to respond to the
    problems raised by the current approach
    of policymakers.
  • Lee, E. (2011). Breast-feeding advocacy, risk society and health moralism: a decade’s scholarship. Sociology Compass [Online] 5:1058-1069. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00424.x.
    This article reviews research published this century that engages critically with the mantra ‘Breast is Best’ and the associated expansion of official breast-feeding promotion programmes. In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of such studies published. They mostly explore experience in English speaking, industrialised countries (the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain) which are in some social and cultural respects dissimilar, yet where very similar developments and problems are detected in regards to breast-feeding promotion. We highlight how this exploration of breast-feeding promotion internationally has developed understanding of wider sociological themes. This scholarship, we suggest, has provided a powerful illustration of the relation between risk society (more particularly a heightened consciousness of risk) and the evolution of a code of conduct that regulates behaviour, that has been termed ‘health moralizm’. The article covers three themes: ‘Science, risk society, authority and choice’; ‘Public health policy and infant feeding’; and ‘Moralization and women’s identity work’. We conclude that the research discussed shows how the sociological imagination continues to shed light on the relation between private troubles and public issues. We also suggest one conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that official discourse and everyday maternal experience appear increasingly distant from each other.
  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Bristow, J. (2010). Risk, health and parenting culture. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 12:293-300. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698571003789732.
    In this Editorial, we have three aims. We mainly aim to highlight the key issues raised in the papers that follow, and orient readers to some thematic and methodological connections between them. We have divided the papers into three thematic groups: expert-led constructions of the risk-managing parent; risk society and the development of parental identity with reference to food; and extending 'parenting' backwards. We explain what we mean by these themes and how each paper fits in. We also seek to explain the background to this special issue of Health Risk and Society, and we describe the seminar series that gave rise to it, and make some points about what we mean by the general subject area for that series, 'parenting culture'. Our final objective is to draw attention to a key point that emerges from the research discussed here, namely the importance of 'parenting' as a key site for the development of the risk-centred society and risk-consciousness.
  • Faircloth, C. and Lee, E. (2010). Introduction: 'Changing Parenting Culture'. Sociological Research Online [Online] 15. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5153/sro.2249.
    The essays in this special section emerge from the 'Changing Parenting Culture' series of ESRC research seminars, held between January 2009 and June 2011 at a range of UK universities. Run by the network of scholars 'Parenting Culture Studies',[1] the seminars brought together academics working internationally in a range of disciplines, as well as those in policy and practice to examine shifts in parenting culture. Topics discussed included parenting culture and risk, gender and policy, and the extension of 'parenting' into the pre-pregnancy phase.
  • Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2010). Advocating alcohol abstinence to pregnant women: Some observations about British policy. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 12:301-311. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698571003789690.
    In 2007, the English Department of Health (DH) issued advice stating 'pregnant woman' and 'those trying to conceive' should abstain from drinking alcohol. As others have noted, this advice was issued despite their being no new evidence about the deleterious effects of low levels of alcohol consumption. In this paper, we argue this development is significant for the social construction of 'risk', since in advocating abstinence without an evidence base for this advice, policy makers formalise a connection between uncertainty and danger. We suggest this development has important implications, most obviously for pregnant women, certainly impacting on the nature of the advice they will now receive and likely more generally on their experience of the transition to motherhood. We suggest it has wider implications for individuals' experience also, as policy makers appear to be advocating the same approach to risk to non-pregnant people. Further, it suggests a noteworthy formalisation of a new definition of risk, which should be debated far more extensively, as it matters for the future development of health policy.
  • Lowe, P., Lee, E. and Yardley, L. (2010). Under the influence? The construction of foetal alcohol syndrome in UK newspapers. Sociological Research Online [Online] 15:2. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5153/sro.2225.
    Today, alongside many other proscriptions, women are expected to abstain or at least limit their alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This advice is reinforced through warning labels on bottles and cans of alcoholic drinks. In most (but not all) official policies, this is linked to a risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or one of its associated conditions. However, given that there is little medical evidence that low levels of alcohol consumption have an adverse impact on the foetus, we need to examine broader societal ideas to explain why this has now become a policy concern. This paper presents a quantitative and qualitative assessment of analysis of the media in this context. By analysing the frames over time, this paper will trace the emergence of concerns about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It will argue that contemporary concerns about FAS are framed around a number of pre-existing discourses including alcohol consumption as a social problem, heightened concerns about children at risk and shifts in ideas about the responsibility of motherhood including during the pre-conception and pregnancy periods. Whilst the newspapers regularly carried critiques of the abstinence position now advocated, these challenges focused did little to refute current parenting cultures. © Sociological Research Online, 1996-2010.
  • Lee, E. and Ingham, R. (2010). Why do women present late for abortion. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology [Online] 24:479-489. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2010.02.005.
    This article summarises the findings of studies relating to why women present for abortion at gestations of more than 12 weeks. Its primary focus is on British experience, but relevant studies from other countries are described. Key findings reveal that there are many different reasons. Much of the delay occurs prior to women requesting an abortion; other key issues include women’s concerns about what is involved in having the abortion and aspects of relationships with their partners and/or parents. Further, after requesting an abortion, delays are partly ‘service-related’ – for example, waiting for appointments – and partly ‘woman-related’ for example, missing or cancelling appointments. The relative contributions to the delay of these various factors are discussed. The implications of the research for abortion education and service
    provision are considered. Abortion for reasons linked to foetal abnormality is not covered in this article.
  • Ingham, R. et al. (2008). Reasons for Second Trimester Abortions in England and Wales. Reproductive Health Matters [Online] 16:18-29. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0968-8080(08)31375-5.
    This paper summarises the findings of a study on second trimester abortion in England and Wales in 2005. Second trimester abortions constitute a relatively small proportion of the total number of legal abortions performed in these countries yet attract quite substantial public, and particularly media, attention. Discussion of these abortions has, however, been conducted within a context of little understanding of the factors which explain why they happen. This paper starts with a brief introduction to the policy context for provision of second trimester abortion, and a summary of existing research in the area. It then presents the results of a survey of 883 women on their own reasons why they had abortions in the second trimester The key concept is that of "delay" and reasons for delay in seeking or obtaining abortion at five stages in the pathway to abortion. No clear, single reason emerges. Amongst the main reasons identified ore uncertainty about what to do if they were pregnant, not realising they were pregnant, experiencing bleeding which may hove been confused with continuing to hove periods, and changes in personal circumstances. The paper ends with a consideration of the implications of the results for education, policy development and service provision.
  • Lee, E. (2008). Living with risk in the age of 'intensive motherhood': Maternal identity and infant feeding. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 10:467-477. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698570802383432.
    Socio-cultural studies have suggested that, even in societies where it is a commonplace practice, infant feeding with formula milk can compromise women's identity as 'good mothers.' This proposition is explored in this paper. We first provide a brief review of literature that has considered the broad socio-cultural context for infant feeding, that of 'intensive motherhood.' Attention is drawn to the idea that this context is one in which feeding babies formula milk is constructed as risky, for physical health but also for the mother-child relationship. Drawing on data from a study of mothers living in the UK, the paper then explores how mothers actually experience infant feeding with formula milk and how they live with a context that deems their actions risky. Maternal experience is found to include variously moral collapse, feelings of confidence, expressions of defiance and defensiveness, and opting to go it alone in response to 'information overload.' Despite these variations in how mothers live with risk, the conclusion is drawn that the current cultural context does appear to be one overall in which mothers who formula feed often have to struggle hard to maintain a positive sense of themselves as mothers.
  • Lee, E., Ingham, R. and Clements, S. (2008). Reasons for second trimester abortion in England and Wales. Reproductive Health Matters [Online] 16:18-29. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0968-8080(08)31375-5.
    This paper summarises the findings of a study on second trimester abortion in England and Wales in 2005. Second trimester abortions constitute a relatively small proportion of the total number of legal abortions performed in these countries yet attract quite substantial public, and particularly media, attention. Discussion of these abortions has, however, been conducted within a context of little understanding of the factors which explain why they happen. This paper starts with a brief introduction to the policy context for provision of second trimester abortion, and a summary of existing research in the area. It then presents the results of a survey of 883 women on their own reasons why they had abortions in the second trimester. The key concept is that of “delay” and reasons for delay in seeking or obtaining abortion at five stages in the pathway to abortion. No clear, single reason emerges. Amongst the main reasons identified are uncertainty about what to do if they were pregnant, not realising they were pregnant, experiencing bleeding which may have been confused with continuing to have periods, and changes in personal circumstances. The paper ends with a consideration of the implications of the results for education, policy development and service provision.

    Cet article résume les conclusions d'une étude sur l'avortement du deuxième trimestre en Angleterre et au Pays de Galles en 2005. Les avortements du deuxième trimestre représentent une proportion relativement modeste du nombre total d'avortements légaux pratiqués dans ces pays, mais ils attirent beaucoup l'attention du public et en particulier des médias. Le débat sur ces avortements s'est néanmoins déroulé dans un contexte où les facteurs qui les expliquent sont mal compris. L'article commence par une brève présentation du contexte politique pour la pratique de l'avortement du deuxième trimestre, et un résumé de la recherche dans ce domaine. Il expose ensuite les résultats d'une enquête ayant demandé à 883 femmes leurs raisons pour avoir avorté au deuxième trimestre. Le concept clé est celui de « retard » et des raisons du retard de la demande et de l'obtention de l'avortement à cinq étapes de la voie vers l'avortement. Aucune raison claire et unique n'est apparue. Parmi les principales raisons identifiées, figurent l'incertitude sur la conduite à tenir en cas de grossesse, le fait que les femmes ignoraient qu'elles étaient enceintes, des pertes de sang leur ayant fait croire qu'elles continuaient à avoir leurs règles, et des changements dans leur situation personnelle. L'article s'achève en examinant les conséquences des résultats pour l'éducation, la définition des politiques et la prestation des services.

    En este artículo se resumen los resultados de un estudio sobre el aborto en el segundo trimestre, realizado en Inglaterra y Gales, en 2005. Los abortos de segundo trimestre constituyen una proporción relativamente pequeña del número total de abortos legales efectuados en estos países; sin embargo, atraen considerable atención pública, particularmente de los medios de comunicación. No obstante, el debate sobre estos abortos ha transcurrido en un contexto de poco entendimiento de los factores que explican por qué ocurren. Este artículo comienza con una introducción concisa al contexto de políticas para la prestación de servicios de aborto en el segundo trimestre, y un resumen de las investigaciones realizadas al respecto. Después, se presentan los resultados de una encuesta entre 883 mujeres sobre sus propios motivos para tener abortos en el segundo trimestre. El concepto clave es el de “demora” y las razones para aplazar la búsqueda u obtención de servicios de aborto en cinco etapas en la ruta hacia el aborto. No surge ninguna razón clara y única. Las principales razones mencionadas fueron: incertidumbre sobre qué hacer si estaban embarazadas, no darse cuenta de que estaban embarazadas, experimentar sangrado, que pudo haber sido confundido con continuar teniendo la regla, y cambios en circunstancias personales. Para concluir, se analizan las implicaciones de los resultados para la educación, la formulación de políticas y la prestación de servicios.
  • Lee, E. (2007). Health, morality, and infant feeding: British mothers' experiences of formula milk use in the early weeks. Sociology of Health & Illness [Online] 29:1075-1090. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01020.x.
    The way mothers feed their babies is, internationally, the subject of research, health policy initiatives, and popular discussion, which commonly affirm the mantra 'breast is best'. On one level, this mantra reflects scientific evidence about nutrition and maternal and infant health. From a socio-cultural perspective, the pro-breastfeeding message has, however, been considered an aspect of morality, which influences maternal identity in important ways. This article explores this idea. It does so primarily by reporting and discussing some findings from a study about British mothers' experiences of using formula milk for infant feeding. The paper begins by contextualising this discussion by briefly outlining some aspects of the construction of infant feeding as a social problem in Britain, focusing in particular on the influence of 'the new paradigm of health'.
  • Lee, E. (2007). Infant feeding in risk society. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 9:295-309. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698570701488910.
    A large percentage of British women, in common with women in other Western countries, feed their young babies formula milk. The paper reports some findings of a study of infant feeding that focussed on women's experiences of feeding their babies this way. Data about this issue were collected through detailed, qualitative face to face interviews with 33 mothers and through telephone interviews using a structured questionnaire with 503 mothers. The study found overall that mother's accounts of feeding babies formula milk draw attention to contradictions and tensions in motherhood and mothering. Formula feeding is predominantly experienced by mothers as 'easy,' enabling them to address a wide range of demands and difficulties that mothering a small baby poses for them. At the same time, mothers demonstrate awareness of the socio-cultural construction of the 'moral mother' as the mother who minimizes and avoids risk, and so does not use formula milk for infant feeding. How women react to this tension between 'real life' and 'doing what is healthy' varies, but the study reported here found a large minority of women experience manifestly difficult and debilitating feelings as they attempt to reconcile a pragmatic wish or need to formula feed with dominant constructions of the 'moral mother.' By detailing women's accounts of this aspect of motherhood, the paper contributes to sociological investigation of everyday experiences of risk society. To contextualize this discussion, a brief account of the relationship between eating, feeding babies and risk society is also offered.
  • Lee, E. (2006). Medicalizing Motherhood. Society [Online] 43:47-50. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF02698485.
    Frank Furedi's contribution to the discussion of medicalization" resonated strongly with findings from my own research about contemporary representations of women's emotional experiences. It is indeed the case that compared to the 1970s there is very little contest and debate about the increasing use of illness labels to account for these experiences. To the contrary, there is now wide acceptance of the idea that the most positive development that can take place for women is for more of them to be diagnosed as ill. It is also the case that, as part of this, women's lives are subject to the "unprecedented medicalization of social experience" through the "construction of new psychological conditions" to which Furedi refers.
  • Lee, E. (2005). Debating late abortion: time to tell the truth. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare [Online] 31:7-9. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1783/0000000052972933.
  • Lee, E. (2004). Young women, pregnancy and abortion in Britain: a discussion of law ‘in practice’. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family [Online] 18:283-304. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/18.3.283.
    This contribution draws primarily on findings of an interview study with a group of young women living in Britain who conceived a pregnancy when aged under 18. Through discussion of their narratives, it aims to provide insights about areas of young women’s experience that legal scholars have highlighted as potentially problematic under the current legal framework; namely involvement of parents when those aged under 16 seek medical treatment, and the provision of abortion to under 18s. The broader aim here is to provide comment on the gap between abortion law ‘on paper’, and ‘in practice’. The paper finds that abortion law in Britain operates in practice in a way that differs from what might be expected on the basis of its terms on paper, in that most young women are unlikely to encounter major difficulties when accessing abortion. Nevertheless a key criticism made of the law by legal scholars – that it medicalizes abortion – emerges as having continuing validity, and the conclusion is drawn that the rules that regulate abortion in Britain should remain subject to challenge.


  • Lee, E. et al. (2014). Parenting Culture Studies. [Online]. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137304612.
    Why do we live at a time when the minutiae of how parents raise their children – how they feed them, talk to them, play with them or discipline them – have become routine sources of public debate and policy making? Why are there now so-called 'parenting experts', and social movements like Attachment Parenting, telling us that 'science says' what parents do is the cause of and solution to social problems?

    Parenting Culture Studies provides in-depth answers to these features of contemporary social life drawing on a wide range of sources from sociology, history, anthropology, psychology and policy studies to do so, covering developments in both Europe and North America. Key chapters cover the 'intensification of parenting', the rise of the 'parenting expert', the politicizing of parent-child relationships, and the weakening of bonds between generations. Five essays detail contemporary examples of obsessions with parenting, discussing drinking and pregnancy, attachment theory, neuroscience and family policy, fathering, and 'helicopter parenting'. The Introduction situates parental determinism in the wider context of risk consciousness and the demise of social confidence about how to approach the future. Comprehensive in scope and accessibly written, this book will be an indispensable resource for students, researchers, policy-makers and parents seeking a deeper understanding of the debates surrounding parenting and society today.

Book section

  • Macvarish, J., Lee, E. and Lowe, P. (2016). Understanding the Rise of Neuroparenting. in: We need to talk about family : Essays on Neoliberalism, the Family and Popular Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 95-117.
  • Lee, E. (2013). Afterword in Parenting in Global Perspective: Negotiating Ideologies of Kinship, Self and Politics. in: Faircloth, C., Hoffman, D. M. and Layne, L. L. eds. Parenting in Global Perspective: Negotiating Ideologies of Kinship, Self and Politics. Taylor & Francis Ltd, pp. 244-248. Available at: http://www.taylorandfrancis.com/books/details/9780415624879/.
  • Lee, E. (2011). Infant feeding and the problems of policy. in: Liamputtong, P. ed. Infant Feeding Practices; A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Springer-Verlag New York Inc., pp. 77-94. Available at: http://www.springer.com/public+health/book/978-1-4419-6872-2?otherVersion=978-1-4419-6873-9.
    How a mother feeds her baby is, formally, a decision for her to make. Yet, infant feeding is surrounded by conventions and precepts about appropriate maternal decisions. British women feed their babies in a policy context where no ambivalence is associated with attaching breastfeeding to important benefits for individual children, mothers, and the wider society. Social scientific research indicates that the presumptions of policy are to some extent widely shared; assessments of mothers’ attitudes to infant feeding show they mostly agree ‘breast is best’. Yet, practice departs greatly from official advice. One interpretation of this difference is that mothers are more ambivalent about the benefits of breastfeeding in practice than in the abstract. Research utilising social scientific methods has largely not concerned itself with exploring maternal ambiguity and ambivalence, as the paradigm informing most studies is a public health perspective. A small number of studies have, however, utilised social science methods to generate important insights about the tensions between policy and maternal practice and experience. This chapter summarises findings of this work indicating three major themes: breastfeeding promotion and the individualisation of social problems; ‘scientisation’ and the effacing of maternal choice; and moralisation and the problem of moral jeopardy. It concludes by indicating future possibilities for socio-cultural research about infant feeding.
  • Lee, E. (2010). Abortion in the Twentieth Century in England. in: Brockliss, L. and Montgomery, H. eds. Childhood and Violence in the Western Tradition. Oxford: Oxbow Books. Available at: http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/childhood-and-violence-in-the-western-tradition.html.
  • Lee, E. (2009). Pathologising fatherhood: the case of male Post Natal Depression in Britain. in: Gough, B. and Robertson, S. eds. Men, Masculinities and Health: critical perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 161-177.
    This chapter discusses the emergence of male Post Natal Depression (PND) as a health concern in Britain. Up to the early 1990s, PND was represented as an exclusively female condition. Some however – including medical professionals, academics and media commentators - now take a different view. PND, they suggest, can affect men and some argue almost as many men as women are affected. We offer here a sociological perspective on this development. First, we draw on work about the process of medicalization. Second, we consider social constructionist accounts of ‘the problem of fatherhood’. Third, we situate male PND in relation to analysis of ‘masculinity’ and its pathologisation. In conclusion, we suggest that a central aspect of the emergence of male PND is the validation of need for professional intervention in childrearing.
  • Lee, E. and Bristow, J. (2009). Rules for Infant Feeding. in: Day-Sclater, S., Richards, M. and Jackson, E. eds. Regulating Autonomy, Sex reproduction and the family. Oxford: Hart, pp. 73-92.
    These essays explore the nature and limits of individual autonomy in law, policy and the work of regulatory agencies. Authors ask searching questions about the nature and scope of the regulation of 'private' lives, from intimacies, personal relationships and domestic lives to reproduction. They question the extent to which the law does, or should, protect individual autonomy. Recent rapid advances in the development of new technologies - particularly those concerned with human genetics and assisted reproduction - have generated new questions (practical, social, legal and ethical) about how far the state should intervene in individual decision making. Is there an inevitable tension between individual liberty and the common good? How might a workable balance between the public and the private be struck? How, indeed, should we think about 'autonomy'? The essays explore the arguments used to create and maintain the boundaries of autonomy - for example, the protection of the vulnerable, public goods of various kinds, and the maintenance of tradition and respect for cultural practices. Contributors address how those boundaries should be drawn and interventions justified. How are contemporary ethical debates about autonomy constructed, and what principles do they embody? What happens when those principles become manifest in law?
  • Lee, E. and Frayn, E. (2008). The Feminization of Health. in: Wainwright, D. ed. A Sociology of Health. London: Sage, pp. 115-133. Available at: http://www.uk.sagepub.com/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book229076&.
    • The past 20 years has seen the emergence of a ‘new paradigm’ of health, at the centre of which is the idea that ‘prevention is better than cure’
    • Contemporary health concerns are often ‘gendered’. The emergence of campaigns about ‘men’s health’ is a notable development of recent years
    • There is a striking contrast between feminist constructions of the problem
    of women’s health in the 1970s, and the contemporary problem of gender and health
    • In the context of the ‘new paradigm’, ‘masculinity’ has come to be defined as a barrier to health. ‘Feminine’ attitudes such as a willingness to consider oneself vulnerable and ‘at risk’, and to seek help have, in turn, been validated as desirable characteristics for both men and women
    • Contemporary gendered health concerns have much less to do with evidence-based developments in science and medicine, than with developments in the spheres of politics and society
    • The practical outcome of the feminization of health is that men and well as women may become more anxious and worried about their health, for little discernable benefit
  • Lee, E. (2008). Abortion. in: Cane, P. and Conaghan, J. eds. The New Oxford Companion to Law. Oxford University Press.
  • Lee, E. (2006). The abortion debate today. in: Biggs, H. and Horsey, K. eds. Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation. London: Routledge, pp. 231-250. Available at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781844720903/.
    Ideal for students, academics and practitioners, this text analyzes issues associated with assisted reproduction and embryology. Interdisciplinary in approach, it evaluates areas where there is debate and further/renewed regulation is needed.
  • Lee, E. (2005). Women's Need for Abortion in Britain. in: Glasier, A., Wellings, K. and Critchley, H. eds. Contraception and Contraceptive Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press RCOG Press, pp. 33-43.

Conference or workshop item

  • Lee, E. (2015). Constructing abortion as a social problem: the case of 'sex selection' in the English abortion debate. in: Society for the Study of Social Problems.
  • Lee, E. (2015). Making Parents? Human reproduction and family life in contemporary society. in: British Sociological Asscociation Human Reproduction Study Group Annual Conference.
  • Lee, E. (2014). The 'sex selection'controversy in Britain: where does it leave abortion law and practice? in: Resituating Abortion Conference.
  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Lowe, P. (2013). Biologising Parenting: Neuroscience Discourse and English Social and Public Health Policy. in: Uses and Abuses of Biology.. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/ParentingCultureStudies/biologising-parenting-neuroscience-discourse-and-english-social-and-public-health-policy.
  • Lee, E. (2012). Drinking in Pregnancy and the politics of Parenting. in: Progress Education Trust Annual Conference.
  • Lee, E. (2011). Health Care policies concerning the family and their effects on the moral understanding of the family. in: Symposium "Between Relational Autonomy and Trust".


  • Lee, E., Macvarish, J. and Sheldon, S. (2012). Assessing Child Welfare Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: The new law. Summary of findings. University of Kent. Available at: http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/parentingculturestudies/files/2012/06/Summary_Assessing-Child-Welfare-final.pdf.
    In 1990 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act introduced an extensive legal framework for all research and treatment using human embryos in the UK. One short section of this Act placed on assisted conception services an obligation to assess ‘the welfare of the child’ (WOC) who may be born as a result of treatment pre-conception. This part of the HFE Act became the subject of research and debate in the subsequent years.
  • Ingham, R. et al. (2007). Second-trimester abortions in England and Wales. Centre for Sexual Health Research, University of Southampton. Available at: https://www.bpas.org/media/1202/second_trimester_abortions__ingham.pdf.
    In recent years, there has been a great deal of public debate about the ethics of ‘later abortions’- those that are carried out in the second trimester of pregnancy (13–24 weeks), and especially towards the end of that time. However, relatively little research has been conducted into why women have abortions in the second trimester.
    This study, conducted by the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton and the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent, aims to address this gap in the research by examining the reasons that women give for delays in seeking and obtaining abortions.
  • Lee, E. and Furedi, F. (2005). Mothers’ experience of, and attitudes to, the use of infant formula for feeding babies. SSPSSR.
    In British society, breastfeeding is offered cultural affirmation. Images of women breastfeeding their babies are prominently displayed in maternity wards and other healthcare settings. Magazines for pregnant women and new mothers promote breastfeeding to their readers, drawing attention in particular to its health benefits for babies. Advice books and manuals about baby care make it clear that breastfeeding is best. The aim of the study reported on here was to investigate the experience of women in this context. Its particular focus is mothers who feed their babies with formula milk. How do mothers who feed their baby formula milk engage with the cultural expectation to breast-feed? Why do they use formula milk? What information do they receive about doing so? Who provides it and in what form? How do they feel about feeding their babies this way? In particular, given that formula use appears discouraged, to what extent do such women feel respected as mothers?

Research report (external)

  • Lee, E. and Furedi, F. (2009). Review of the effectiveness of the controls on infant formula and follow-on formula, Literature Review. The Food Standards Agency.
    The objectives of the research were as follows:
    • To assess whether infants under 6 months are being fed follow-on formula and if so, the
    reasons why
    • To assess whether the new controls upon the ways in which follow-on formula are
    presented and advertised2 have been effective in making it clear to all those likely to be
    involved in child care, including parents, formal and informal carers, health professionals
    and parents-to-be, that advertisements for follow-on formula relate to formula only for
    older babies (6 months plus), and are not perceived as, or confused with, infant formula
    advertising, which is prohibited and
    • Based upon this evidence, to draw conclusions about what changes, if any, could be
    made to the presentation and advertising of infant / follow-on formula, for consideration
    by the review panel
  • Ingham, R. and Lee, E. (2008). Evaluation of Early Medical Abortion (EMA) pilot sites. [Online]. Department of Health. Available at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Public../DH_084618.
    This DH commissioned research assessed the safety, effectiveness and acceptability of early medical abortions in non-traditional settings, and will contribute towards the establishment of a protocol to cover the elements and processes required for a safe EMA service in non-traditional settings.
  • Lee, E. et al. (2004). A Matter of Choice?: Explaining National Variations in Teenage Abortion and Motherhood. [Online]. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/system/files/1859351824.pdf.


  • Macvarish, J. and Lee, E. (2019). Constructions of parents in ACEs discourse. Social Policy and Society.
    In December 2017, the House of Commons Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee put out a
    call for submissions to an Inquiry which would consider the evidence-base for early intervention policies,
    with a particular focus on ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ or ACEs. This paper analyses those
    submissions and the transcripts of the Inquiry’s oral sessions in the belief that they constitute a useful
    window through which to explore the types of claims being made in ACEs discourse. Our aim is to assess
    whether the ACEs phenomenon represents a continuity with what has been termed the ‘first three years
    movement’ (Thornton, 2011a and b): social policy and philanthropic activism which focuses on the earliest
    years of life in the name of preventing social problems ‘down the line’. In particular, we consider
    constructions of parents as determinate of these social problems through their influence on their children
    and the ways in which these are gendered in new ways.
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