Some seniors are finishing their Bowdoin educations by creating original honors projects that help us see the world in new and interesting ways. This is the first installment of the year in a continuing series that highlights these projects.

Students can usually anticipate that there will be some challenges associated with completing an honors project.

Senior Cassia Roth was surprised that one of her challenges was getting into Argentina's National Library.

Roth researched the history of reproductive rights in Argentina while in Buenos Aires. The country's stance on issues such as contraception and abortion has been influenced by the desire for a larger population and the influence of the Catholic Church.

Roth said that though she speaks Spanish, she still got nervous asking for help on her first visit to the National Library. She had to show her passport and fill out a form, and then follow strict rules about what she could carry into the library and how she was able to use documents for research.

"I spent an hour and a half getting into the library," said Roth of her first day there.

Roth, a Latin American Studies and Spanish double major and Gender and Women's Studies minor, found a topic that encompassed all of her interests while studying abroad in Argentina in the fall of her junior year.

While Roth was studying in Buenos Aires, the President of Argentina passed a law making sexual education in public schools mandatory, an action that was surprisingly liberal for a country that historically has not taken a progressive stance on reproductive issues.

Roth researched other similar legislation and returned to Argentina on a Surdna Fellowship in the summer of 2007.

The 1970s provided an interesting time period from which to view reproductive rights, since it included both Juan Peron's democratic government and a ruthless military dictatorship. Roth said she was surprised to find that Peron changed the laws regarding hormonal birth control so women had to have a prescription in triplicate: one copy for the doctor, one for the pharmacist, and one for the Secretary of Health, in order to receive medication.

According to Roth, the military dictatorship would kidnap, torture, and even kill leftist sympathizers, sometimes kidnapping pregnant women who would give birth while captive and be forced to give their babies to military officers.

"Reading about that was intense," said Roth.

Looking at the current democratic government and the era of Peron concurrently, Roth said that, "both have repressed reproductive rights in the same ways even though they were different in other ways."

Roth said that reproductive rights in Argentina have recently gotten more progressive, including such measures as government-funded family planning centers and the availability of contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent. Still, abortion is illegal in the country, excluding some exceptional circumstances, a fact Roth does not expect will change soon.

"There's still a double standard where men are allowed to sleep around, but women are chastised for that," said Roth.

Roth's project will culminate in a paper that she anticipates to be about 120 pages long. It will have three main sections focusing on the state, the church, and women's movements and examining the role each institution played in the changing status of reproductive rights in Argentina.

Roth is applying to graduate school for admission in the fall of 2009. She intends to study history with a focus on Latin American or feminist issues.

Roth said that she would recommend an Honors Project to students who are willing to spend a lot of time in the library.

"It's rewarding, but challenging," she said.