When most Americans think about legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade comes to mind. After all, it was the court decision that is most well-known for legalizing abortion, but, there's another Supreme Court case that goes widely unnoticed — one that was also settled on Jan. 22, 1973.
This companion case, known as Doe v. Bolton, overturned Georgia abortion law and found that a woman is allowed, in cases of health concerns, to abort a child after viability. A summary provided by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, describes the relationship between Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton as follows:
Doe v. Bolton is the companion case for Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that established a “substantive due process” right to abortion. In Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun instructed that Roe and Doe “are to be read together.” In this 7-2 opinion by Justice Blackmun, the Court elaborated on the “health exception” established in Roe. In cases where an abortion is necessary in order to preserve the life or health of the mother, the state must permit an abortion even after viability. According to Justice Blackmun, the doctor’s medical judgment as to the health of the mother may be “exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the wellbeing of the patient.”
TheBlaze tracked down Sandra Cano, the real-life "Mary Doe," back in 2013 — the plaintiff in the equally-important, yet rarely-discussed, companion case. Unlike Roe vs. Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey — whose life TheBlaze has also extensively profiled — Cano was not, according to her own account, a willing participant in the Doe v. Bolton case.
Sandra Cano (Facebook)
In fact, she alleged that she was essentially tricked and used as a tool by lawyers seeking to push legalized abortion. During a phone interview just one year before her death in 2014 following a battle with cancer and heart failure, Cano explained the sadness that she has felt during the years surrounding her involvement in and attachment to the legal battle.
"They connected my name to a case that I never knew about in the beginning, never participated in, never believed in," she said, noting that people have judged her in the past, assuming that she was complicit in the case — a notion she patently denied. "I carried a guilt for many, many years. I was just a pawn."
Like McCorvey, Cano said that her early years were difficult and unstable and that her true story has really never been told in media. Around the time of the interview with TheBlaze, though, she had begun to open up to share what happened to her and how she came to discover that her name would forever be tied into America's seemingly never-ending abortion debate.
"I had a troubled life — very troubled," Cano said, candidly adding, "I guess that is what got me in the situation I'm in."
[sharequote align="center"]"I never mentioned that I wanted to end it."[/sharequote]
Problems for Cano started in the early 1970s when she was 22 years old and was approached by Legal Aid in Atlanta, Georgia, to seek help with getting a divorce from her husband, whom she described as a "terrible man." At the time, despite her young age, Cano already had three children and was pregnant with a fourth.
She had turned to the legal organization in hopes of getting some relief from her troubles.
"When I went to Legal Aid ... my first two children were in foster care and I was in a battle to get my children back," she explained, not going into the details surrounding that turmoil. "Granted, I wasn't very stable and I didn't have family support. My life was a disaster, but I just wanted to get those children out."
She recalls being so thankful that a lawyer named Margie Pitts-Hames agreed to help her get her kids back — something that was inevitably achieved. However, this assistance allegedly didn't come without a price. Cano claims that, without her knowledge, she became the plaintiff in the infamous Doe vs. Bolton case.
"They knew I was pregnant [at the time], but I never mentioned that I wanted to end it," Cano said of her situation. "That thought wasn't in my mind."
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She remembers Hames asking her about her views on women's rights issues. At the time, Cano, consumed with her own issues, didn't think much of the questioning. But she said that she later came to regret it.
"The only think she had asked me at one time and I regret it, she asked me, 'How do you feel about a woman terminating her pregnancy?' and I said, 'Well I don't care what someone else does -- I would never terminate my baby."
After this exchange, Cano said she remembers another question that was asked about how she views men, women and equal pay. She said that Hames, who died in in 1994, told her that these issues were tied to a women's rights case that the attorney was working on. Little did the soon-to-be-plaintiff know that she would be at the center of that legal quest.
Feeling an allegiance to the attorney after she helped get her children back, Cano said that she knew nothing about the case, yet complied with the few requests — actions that she said eventually landed her at the center of America's historical abortion debate.
Cano said that Hames had arranged an abortion for the child she was pregnant with at the time. After her own mother agreed with the lawyer's contention that termination might be the best path forward, Cano briefly fled the state in an attempt to save her child's life. She went to Oklahoma, where she stayed with her husband's grandmother.
It should be noted that some — including a gynecologist involved in the case — have claimed that Cano did seek an abortion, though she consistently pushed back against such claims before her death.
"[Hames] told me, 'We've arranged to have an abortion for you so that you don't have to be pregnant,'" she recalled. "I didn't want anymore children to bring in the world, but I sure [wasn't] going to take a baby's life, because [that wasn't] for me."
Listen to Cano discuss her case in a 2013 HuffPo Live interview below:
Within days, her family and lawyer reached out to her, told her she didn't need to have an abortion and sent for her to come home. While she was unclear about the details of what was being requested, Cano said that Hames asked her to return home and sit inside of a courtroom — a request she felt she should comply with, considering the help that the attorney had given her.
"I was so thankful that I wasn't going to have to have an abortion," she said. "Margie had been really nice to help me [and] I thought, 'I have to stand beside her because she helped me.'"
So, the next day, after returning to Georgia, she was brought down to a court house. She was told to sit quietly and not to provide voluntary information about herself to the court. At the time, Cano said she still had no idea what, exactly, was going on; she merely thought she was helping out with a random case — and she claims to have never testified in any hearings related to the Doe v. Bolton legal battle.
"They told me, 'Don't say your name. Don't speak to anyone,'" Cano recalls." There were several pregnant women on a bench and they wanted me to sit over with them, which I did. I left while [the hearing] was still going on."
That, as far as she was concerned, was the end of the story. However, she remembers being home with her mother and stepfather sometime after the hearings had ended. As they watched television, they became excited, telling Cano that she had won her case and that she had helped "legalize abortion."
Confused and knowing little about what had happened, Cano said that she set out on an information-gathering quest and sought to clear her name. Describing herself as a pro-life Christian, she said that she was heart-broken and frustrated by what had unfolded.
In a 2006 interview with the National Catholic Register, she outlined the next steps that she took to go public, while also pushing to overturn the verdict:
In 1974, I went to Georgia Right to Life to try to find someone to help me. I told them that I was the woman who was involved in the abortion law, but didn’t know what it was about. They sent me to Fayetteville to seek help. On and off over the years, I would come forward, but when you don’t have money or people willing to help, a lot of people think you’re someone off the nut wagon.
In the 1980s, I talked to an Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper reporter. She told me I had to prove who I was. I asked, “How do you do that?” She told me I had to go down to the court to verify that I was the person involved in the case. When I did that, they told me I had to go to the Federal Archives building. When I did that, they gave me this humongous book to look through. I didn’t understand half of it. I was out of my league. There was also a sealed envelope. I wanted to open it, but couldn’t. They told me that I would have to go to the court to have my records unsealed. Someone at the court showed me how to petition the court to unseal the records.
A week later, Judge Owen Foster called me. He told me, “I don’t normally do this, but think you need a lawyer. We’re going to be hearing your case.” I found an attorney and went down to the court to unseal the records. Margie Pitt Hames didn’t want me to open the records.
After unsealing the records I wrote to the Supreme Court. They said that the statute of limitations had passed.
"I carried the burden that my name legalized abortion," she told TheBlaze of the months and years following the announcement of the verdict.
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While Cano later tried to have the Supreme Court overturn the verdict and has spoken out fervently, claiming that her rights were violated, she had little success. However, the woman who came to have her name forever tied to America's abortion debate spent years working with pro-life causes and attempting to let the world know what really happened.
Cano said that many people doubted her story, but that, at the time, her life was "so messed up" that she felt like she was drowning. Not knowing much about legalities and being consumed with her own problems, she was the perfect candidate for exploitation.
"I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't been in those shoes," she said.
In the end, Cano ended up giving her baby up for adoption, considering her life situation at the time. Abortion, though a case was argued in her name, had never been an option as she told TheBlaze, "I couldn't live with the fact that I had shed a baby's blood."