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Taking a broader aim, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last week on behalf of Nial Ruth Cox, now 26 and a nurse's aide on Long Island. She was sterilized in North Carolina in 1965 after her mother, who was supporting ten children on welfare, was persuaded that the results of the operation would be temporary. The suit charged that Miss Cox had been unfairly described as "mentally deficient," then coerced, deprived of due process and made a victim of cruel and unusual punishment. Laws permitting the "forced sterilization" of anyone termed "mentally defective" exist in 22 states, the A.C.L.U. said, and should all be struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.