Sandra Cano, who said “cunning, wicked lawyers” involved her in a landmark abortion case, died Sept. 30 of extended illnesses. She was 66.
Her dying wish was for people to “pray for the end of abortion in America and pray for her family,” Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation in Texas, which represented Ms. Cano for 14 years, said Wednesday.
Ms. Cano was the unidentified “Mary Doe” in the 1973 Supreme Court case that challenged Georgia’s restrictive abortion laws. When the high court struck down the Georgia laws, other state laws restricting abortion were also swept away. Together with a companion case, Roe v. Wade, the court cases resulted in the legalization of abortions for any “health” reason during an entire pregnancy.
The lead civil-rights lawyer in the Bolton case, Margie Pitts Hames, called the case “a cornerstone for liberating women,” according to her 1994 obituary in the New York Times. Ms. Hames once told an Atlanta-area legal newspaper that she respected Ms. Cano’s decision to change her position on abortion, but denied pressuring her to challenge the Georgia law. Friends of Ms. Hames said she was painstaking in her legal efforts and that Ms. Cano recanted.
But Ms. Cano testified to Congress that “cunning, wicked lawyers” used her to “twist the American court system” in a fraudulent way.
She said she sought help in 1970 from the Atlanta Legal Aid office because she was unhappily married, unstable and pregnant with her fourth child. She also insisted that she thought the papers she signed for Ms. Hames and other lawyers were about divorce and child custody, not abortion.
Ms. Cano, who never had an abortion, said she learned the full truth about her case when she went to court in 1988 to have records unsealed.
“I did not seek an abortion nor do I believe in abortion,” Ms. Cano told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005. “Yet my name and my life is now forever linked with the slaughter of 40-50 million babies.”
In 2006, Ms. Cano vainly sought a rehearing of their cases at the Supreme Court. Other efforts the challenge the decisions in their cases also failed.
Over the years, Ms. Cano participated in numerous pro-life events. “We believe she now knows the peace that she so ardently sought for the past 40 years,” Ann Scheidler, vice president of Pro-Life Action League, wrote this week.
“She was one of the most courageous and eloquent women I have ever known,” said Mr. Parker, noting that Ms. Cano’s family will hold a private service.
Note: An earlier version of this story reported the wrong day of death. Ms. Cano died Tuesday Sept. 30.