‘Mary Doe’ of Doe v. Bolton Decries Decision, Fights for Life at NRLC ‘89


By Leslie Bond

Editor’s note. Sadly, Sandra Cano passed away this week. In addition to the story that ran today, we are reprinting a story about Ms. Cano that ran in the July 13, 1989, issue of National Right to Life News.

Sandra Cano

Sandra Cano

Sandra Cano is a shy woman, a quiet woman. She does not like publicity or intrusions into the privacy of her family.

But Sandra Cano is speaking out. And she is speaking out for life.

Sandra Cano is the “Mary Doe” of Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, both decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. Together, those two cases gave this nation abortion on demand throughout the nine months of pregnancy.

Mrs. Cano learned the full extent of what her case did only recently, and in an interview with NRL News she shared her reaction to her discovery: she was “horrified.”

Why? Because Sandra Cano–then Sandra Bensing–neither ever wanted nor ever had, an abortion. To her, she said, abortion “is just legalized murder.”

According to Mrs. Cano, she was used by pro-abortion attorneys to accomplish something she did not believe in; she was told to undergo an abortion she did not want – and she ran away to avoid doing so; and now that she understands what was done by the case for which her name was used, she wants to change the law.

“I’m just trying to fight for babies lives,” she said simply. “I think everybody should pull together and stop it.”

The story Mrs. Cano tells of how she came to be the plaintiff in one of the most devastating abortion decisions in history is a sad one. Pregnant with her fourth child, she learned that her other children had been placed in foster care and she wanted to regain custody of them. She was put in touch with attorneys who agreed to help her.

But according to Mrs. Cano, the attorneys asked in exchange that she allow them to use her case for another purpose: to overturn Georgia’s abortion law. Desperate to regain custody of her children, she agreed. But, she says, she made it clear from the beginning that she would never undergo an abortion.

The case proceeded through the courts and Mrs. Cano said she was called on occasionally to sign papers—which she said she did, through both she and her attorneys knew that she was not reading them. Then, when she was about six months pregnant, she was told that an abortion had been approved for her at the state court level, and an appointment had been made for her at a local hospital.

“I said, no, I’m not going to go in there and have it,” she told NRL News. But apparently, her family and attorneys did not believe her, because the night before the scheduled abortion, she said, a suitcase was packed and she was told she would be taken in for the abortion.

“Well instead,” she said, “while they [were] sleeping. I ran off to Hugo, Oklahoma.”

From Oklahoma, Mrs. Cano called her attorneys and again insisted that she was not going to have an abortion. Finally, she was told that she did not have to have an abortion and she returned home. She later gave birth to a baby girl and placed her for adoption. Mrs. Cano recently was reunited with that daughter, now a 20-year-old mother of two and a staunch opponent of abortion.

It was only in the last year that Mrs. Cano learned the full extent of what the Doe v. Bolton case did to the rights of unborn children. After fighting for years to unseal her court records in order to prove her identity as the “Mary Doe” of the case, she finally succeeded and saw many of the court documents, she says for the first time. Those documents, she says, contain information which is totally false—including claims that she applied for an abortion in person and was turned down at two local hospitals, events which Mrs. Cano says never occurred.

Also included, she says, is a claim that she was examined by a psychologist who determined that she was mentally unstable and should undergo an abortion for her mental health. Mrs. Cano says that she merely spent a few moments with the doctor, and the visit did not involve any kind of psychological evaluation.

Now that she knows the facts about her case, Mrs. Cano said she feels used. Her case, she said, was seen as the perfect vehicle to overturn the abortion law because she was poor, she had other children, and she lacked the education to question what her attorneys were doing. But she never wanted to have an abortion.

“I knew I couldn’t afford a baby, I couldn’t care for it, but I wasn’t going to take her life,” she stressed. “And the baby was moving, she was kicking, and these people didn’t really care. They didn’t care if the baby’s moving. To them, it’s not a baby, it’s not born. It’s an inconvenience, you can’t afford it, let’s kill the baby,” she said.

“But I could not do that.”