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Sandra Cano, "Mary Doe" in Supreme Court Abortion Case, Dies

Saying she had been duped into Doe v Bolton, she fought to overturn her own case


John Burger


Sandra Cano, whose legal brief for the legalization of abortion became the companion case of Roe v. Wade, died Sept. 30. She was 66. 

Though she was the anonymous Mary Doe in the Doe v. Bolton decision of the US Supreme Court that expanded abortion rights in the United States, Cano later realized that she had been duped into signing on with the case and worked to overturn both that decision and the more famous one that had  been issued the same day in 1973, Roe v. Wade.

“Sandra was a sincere, honest, good Christian woman, and her heart grieved that she had been so taken advantage of,” said Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life. “She spent her whole life trying to overturn that decision. I will continue working — harder than ever before — to make that happen in my lifetime.”

“We journeyed with her. We had her as a guest on many of our ‘Defending Life’ television shows on EWTN and on our radio shows,” added Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “Sandra and Norma McCorvey — Jane Roe in the Roe v. Wade decision — were with me in 2001 at the Waldorf Astoria when the National Right to Life Committee gave me an award, and in 2002 when Franciscan University gave me an honorary degree. It was a special joy when I had them both with me."

Father Pavone said Cano didn’t like the spotlight, "but when we would put her in it, she would thank us for helping her get her message out.”

In 1989, Cano was the special guest when Citizens for a Pro-Life Society dedicated a 5-foot tall monument in memory of over 1000 aborted babies at Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee. "She was very passionate about and wholeheartedly committed to the cause of life," said Monica M. Miller, its director. "I could tell that she was deeply, very personally troubled about the role she was made to unwittingly play in the national legalization of abortion, and she did all that she could to reverse the damage the Doe v. Bolton case brought to our nation and the toll it took on the lives of the unborn."

“She had deep regrets about being used in this case by the pro-aborts. She was clearly a victim of deceptive effort to use her, and she felt extremely bad about it,” said Chris Slattery, who has fighting New York City’s efforts to rein in the work of a network of crisis pregnancy centers he founded. “She dedicated her life to trying to overturn her case and to do whatever she could to promote the cause of life. She was kind of a tragic hero of the movement, like Normal McCorvey, and then converted to come over to our side. The two of them had similar circumstances—they were used by the attorneys, without knowing the true nature of what they were doing with their cases."

Cano had been critically ill in a hospital outside of Atlanta dealing with throat cancer, sepsis and heart failure, according to

The Supreme Court’s Doe decision allowed for abortion up until the moment of birth if necessary for the health of the mother. It defined “health” to include “all factors — physical emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age” — that may lead someone to have an abortion, LifeNews explained. 

In 2003 Cano tried to get the decision reversed.

"I’m going back to court to right a wrong," she at the time. "Abortion has hurt millions of women," she said, "and I regret my role.

She said the original case was based on lies and deception. She said that in the early 1970s she had sought legal aid to obtain a divorce from a convicted child molester and to regain custody of her two children who were in foster care—not for an abortion. But her attorneys at the time misrepresented her and sought to overturn Georgia’s laws requiring three doctors to certify that an abortion was medically necessary. 

“She regretted not having more intelligent questions about what was going on in the beginning,” Slattery said. 

"She was deceived, the whole country was deceived," Father Pavone said. "She was totally sincere. There was not an ounce of deception in her body or her spirit."

 In 2006, without comment, the high court denied Cano’s appeal. 

At the time, she told the National Catholic Register, “It’s a nightmare to be connected to a case that I never wanted to be connected to. Doe v. Bolton allows abortion up to the ninth month. This case takes children’s lives.”

Cano is pictured above in an undated photo, at left, with Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the early proponent of legal abortion who later fought against it, and Norma McCorvey.

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia's English edition.


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