According to a new AP report, Nashville prosecutors have made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations at least four times in the last five years.

In the most recent case, first reported by The Tennessean, a woman with a 20-year history of mental illness had been charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby died mysteriously. Her defense attorney says the prosecutor assigned to the case wouldn't go forward with a plea deal to keep the woman out of prison unless she had the surgery.

Defense attorneys say there have been at least three similar cases in the past five years, suggesting the practice may not be as rare as people think and may happen more often outside the public view and without the blessing of a court.

Forced sterilization of women has a long and ugly history in the United States where it was often illegally employed against minority communities. Nashville's newest District Attorney Glenn Funk, a former defense lawyer who took office in September, ordered his office to stop the practice.

Funk said people could be ordered to stay away from children, and the state wouldn't have to resort to such invasive measures.

''The bottom line is the government can't be ordering a forced sterilization,'' Funk said.

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The AP indicates that the Nashville practice is hardly an anomaly, pointing to similar cases of forced sterilization in West Virginia, California and Virginia.