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First Roe, now Doe: The legal facade crumbles

National | Plaintiff in the other key 1973 abortion case, Doe vs. Bolton, publicly recants the false story the Supreme Court believed

Issue: "Stealth Bible," March 29, 1997

A man comes to the door of Sandra Cano's south Atlanta home; he's a neighbor in this poor, mostly minority community. This Hispanic man has gotten a ticket, he explains in Spanish. He asks Mrs. Cano if she would talk to the court for him. Her hands and schedule are full this morning; she is talking to a reporter and taking care of two grandchildren. Still, she tells the man not to worry, she'll speak for him. "I'm the neighborhood helper," Mrs. Cano explains. "My Spanish is better than their English, so sometimes they need me to be their voice."

Mrs. Cano has been in this role before. In 1970 she became Mary Doe, a representative of women seeking abortion. Although she never spoke in court (her lawyers did that), she was the named plaintiff in a pivotal Supreme Court case, Doe vs. Bolton, that opened the floodgates of abortion on demand. But the case was built on lies, she says, and she's coming forward now to set straight the history of this American holocaust. Her first public appearance was slated for last weekend at the dedication of the National Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga.

She was to appear with Norma McCorvey, who announced in 1995 that she had become a Christian and wanted to spend the rest of her life working against abortion. Mrs. McCorvey was Jane Roe in Roe vs. Wade.

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Roe is the better known of the two 1973 Supreme Court cases concerning abortion. But the Doe case is the one at the center of the partial-birth abortion debate. Roe legalized abortion but only through the second trimester; Doe expanded the newfound right to include abortion right up until birth, if the mother's "health" is at stake. And because "health" was defined in that case as everything from physical well-being to psychological and financial well-being, abortion became an unfettered practice.

"I'm just now learning a lot of the details, and I'm really shocked," Mrs. Cano, now 49, told WORLD. "Abortion is against every belief I have. I've never been for abortion. I never went for an abortion. I was not the person they say I was. This case was based on lies."

In 1970, Sandra Cano (then Sandra Besing) was "young and ignorant," she says. She found herself pregnant and alone; her husband was in jail and two of her children had been taken from her by county welfare workers. She went to the Legal Aid clinic in Atlanta, looking for help in divorcing her husband and regaining custody of her children.

What she received instead was an interview with ACLU lawyer Margie Pitts Hames, who gave her vague promises of help. Mrs. Cano didn't know she wasn't a Legal Aid attorney, and it wasn't until weeks later that the subject of abortion was even broached. "She asked what I thought about it, and I said I was against it," Mrs. Cano said.

Still, lawyer Mrs. Hames (now deceased) felt at the time she was "helping people," according to an interview she gave in 1989 to an Atlanta-area legal gazette.

Mrs. Hames and a few other activists "dipped into our own pockets to help Sandra" pay for the abortion she didn't want, "even though it would have been better for our legal case for her to remain pregnant." Mrs. Cano recalls how they pressured her to have the abortion, and just three days before she was scheduled to abort, she fled.

"There's no way I could have killed this baby," she says now. "I didn't need a baby. I didn't want the baby. I didn't want to be pregnant, but I was not going to take a baby's life."

Mrs. Cano took refuge in Oklahoma with her grandmother. She refused to come home until Mrs. Hames assured her over the phone that she wouldn't have to have the abortion.

Melissa was born November 6, 1970, and placed for adoption.

These facts were seemingly inconvenient for Mrs. Hames; in later court testimony, Mrs. Hames gave the Supreme Court the following account of Mrs. Cano's noble struggle for reproductive rights:

"Her reasons for abortion were several.... She applied to the public hospital for an abortion, where she was eligible for free medical care. Her application there was denied. She later applied through a private physician to a private hospital abortion committee, where her abortion application was approved. She did not obtain the abortion, however, because she did not have the cash to deposit and pay her hospital bill in advance."

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