From the Desk of Senator Brian W. Stewart (June 14): “Honoring the Flag and Our Rights”

Today marks the anniversary when Congress approved the American flag on June 14th, 1777. Our country started honoring our flag with Flag Day when, in 1885, a 19 year old Wisconsin school teacher, Bernard John Cigrand, told his students that June 14th was our flag’s birthday. He dedicated his life to establish a national holiday celebrating the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the first Flag Day proclamation. Flag Day became a permanent national observance when President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949.

I have been fortunate to support local efforts to help educate Northern Illinois students about our flag, and Flag Day. My office has supplied brochures about the flag’s history and how to take care of it every year, starting when I first became your Representative and continuing now as your Senator. If you have a program and would like brochures, please do not hesitate to call Glenda in my Dixon office at 815-284-0045.

In the past 242 years, our flag has changed. Our flag is different than the flags of other countries and not only in design. The American flag is the only flag that changes when its country changes. When states are added to the union, we add stars to the field of blue. In that sense, our flag grows as our country grows.

I grew up with the story of Betsy Ross sewing our first flag. What I didn’t know was that the Continental Congress adopted our flag by resolution. They said, “Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Our flag was chosen before there was a United States of America. Our flag was chosen before we won independence from Great Britain. Our flag was the symbol of our forefathers’ cry for freedom. It served as the symbol of the fundamental truth that we are all “created equal,” and we are, “endowed by… (our) Creator with certain unalienable rights, (and) among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Sadly, our Governor signed Senate Bill 25, the Reproductive Health Act this past week. This law is evidence that our Governor, and Springfield’s Democrat majorities in the House and Senate do not agree with Jefferson and our Founding Fathers. They do not believe our right to life begins when we are created. They believe it begins only after we’re born.

Section 1-15 Paragraph c of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) says, “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus do not have independent rights under the laws of this State.” I think we all know what a fertilized egg means. An embryo is the stage of an unborn baby’s development between conception and about the 11th week of pregnancy. During this stage, the unborn baby has its first heartbeat (wk 6), develops arms and legs, and grows intestines. Teeth begin to form under the gums, and by the end of the embryonic stage a baby has begun to develop major organs and a central nervous system.

After week 11, the unborn baby is a fetus. Between the 11th and 16 weeks the fetus will develop genitals, hair, nails, vocal chords, and hardening bones. The unborn baby’s kidneys and liver will start to function. By the 24th week, the fetus will have grown rapidly, have eyelids and eyebrows, have a sleep cycle and even hiccup.

According to the newly signed law of Illinois, there is no point between conception and birth when unborn baby Jane has the same right to life as her pregnant mom. The bill was debated for several hours in the Capitol. Its House sponsor claimed many times that the bill changes nothing about the relationship between pregnant mothers and their doctors in Illinois. All the current practices remain the same. She repeatedly claimed all the RHA changes is the criminal penalty of Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 which had already been struck down by the courts, and repeals the Illinois Partial Birth Abortion Ban because the federal government passed a law banning partial birth abortion in 2003.

If this were true, I have several questions. The RHA is 126 pages. The sections of the bill repealing the Illinois Abortion Law and the partial birth abortion ban take 15 words. If the purpose of the law were to only repeal those portions, why did it take 126 pages?

If the purpose of the law were to only “clean up” our state’s reproductive law, why did the Governor declare that Illinois is a beacon of hope in the heart of this nation,” because of it? Why did the bill make a point of denying an unborn baby has any rights under Illinois law?

The answer is – bodily autonomy. Senator Melinda Bush said, “We believe that women should have the same autonomy over their bodies that men do.” Bodily autonomy means that a person has the fundamental right to choose what they do with their own bodies. That’s why we hear phrases like, “My body my choice.”

And that’s why the RHA had to deny unborn baby Jane ever has a right to life. If we acknowledge that there is a point that she does have a right to life, her pregnant mom’s right to bodily autonomy has to be weighed against her baby’s right to life.

I think most of us would understand that there are times when an abortion procedure is necessary to protect a woman’s life or to preserve her health. I think most of us would also agree there is some point when an unborn baby has a right to life. And that’s why I voted no.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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