Advocacy Workshops Share How to Defeat Florida’s Pro-Abortion Amendment

By Karen Barry Schwarz – Special to the Florida Catholic

More than 150 Pro-Life leaders from the Diocese of Venice attended Pro-Life Advocacy Workshops this week, with the impassioned goal of learning how to defeat Amendment 4, Florida’s dangerous, misleading Pro-Abortion Amendment which will be on the ballot this fall. The workshops were held at St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota on May 13, 2024, and at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers on May 15.

Both workshops included lunch and opened with a prayer from the hosting Pastor. The workshops were presented by The Leadership Institute, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, in cooperation with the Diocese’s Respect Life Office and its director, Jeanne Berdeaux, with the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who was pleased to hear of the enthusiastic turnout. Dena Espenscheid, the Institute’s Director of Pro-Life Training and Senior Director of Coalitions led the sessions. Espenscheid is an experienced Pro-Life advocate, and an expert in how to persuade voters and win elections.

Various strategies were presented, and Espenscheid’s main message was that education about the amendment is key. Jeanne Berdeaux, Director of Respect Life for the Diocese of Venice, echoed the critical importance of education.

“The language in Amendment 4 is misleading, and easy to misunderstand,” Berdeaux said. “The fact is, this Amendment is way too extreme, as it would enshrine completely unregulated, unrestricted abortion in our state constitution. I don’t think this is what people want. The more we can educate people about what it really means for our state, the more likely we are going to defeat this deceitful Amendment.”

Espenscheid explained that the current law in Florida, the Heartbeat Protection Law, already has in its provisions what most people who are for some form of legal abortion want.

Specifically, Espenscheid said in order to defeat this Amendment, the message that needs to be communicated is “Vote No on Amendment 4,” and “Amendment 4 is way too extreme,” not the broader, Catholic message that all life, from conception to natural death is sacred.

Although the message of the sanctity of life is clearly important, and a fundamental Catholic belief, the fact is that many people – even some Catholics – feel that in some circumstances abortion should be legal.

Espenscheid explained how there is simply not enough time between now and the election to convince those people to become Pro-Life.  However, there is a good chance of convincing everyone that Amendment 4 is way too extreme, and far inferior to the current Florida law that allows abortion only until a heartbeat is detected, and in other extenuating circumstances, such as rape, or incest.

Espenscheid pointed out that Amendment 4 seeks to remove “government interference” with abortion, but what this really means is that it seeks to remove any government regulation of abortion at all. This includes important safety measures, such as who is allowed to recommend or perform abortions, or minimal facility sanitation requirements. Amendment 4 presents a dangerous proposition not only for babies, as it allows for very late-term abortions, but also for women, who would no longer be protected by laws regulating the procedure.

“For those who think abortion should be legal, it already is, in the state of Florida,” Espenscheid said. “The Heartbeat Protection Law is a reasonable law and restricts abortion but for those circumstances which we know most people – even some Catholics – feel should be considered. There is no need to expand the law and remove the commonsense protections for women, and minors, that are currently in place.”

Regarding minors, Espenscheid was referring to the fact that Amendment 4 eliminates the need for a minor to have a parent’s consent before having an abortion; the Amendment would only require “notification.”

In closing, Espenscheid was adamant in telling the groups that “Nothing ever got passed, or defeated, without action.”  Emphatically emphasizing the importance of gathering and mobilizing volunteers, Espenscheid detailed effective ways to empower and motivate people, and highlighted various methods of educating Floridians, including the tried and true methods of Parish communications, lawn signs, phone banking, and old-fashioned door-knocking, which is “only hard in the beginning,” she said.

Most people will have decided, and at least mentally locked in their vote by September 1, Espenscheid said, so the education and persuasion work must be completed by then to work. The Amendment requires a 60 percent super majority to pass in November.

Vote No on 4!  Spread the word.

To learn the facts about Amendment 4 and how it is designed to mislead voters, visit the websites of the Florida Voters Against Extremism,, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops,, and the Diocese of Venice Respect Life Office,

To get involved and help defeat this dangerous pro-abortion amendment, contact Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Director of Respect Life,, 941-374-1068.

Prayer to Defeat Florida’s Abortion Amendment

Prayer to Defeat Florida’s Abortion Amendment (English)

Ever-living God, you give life and desire a future for all your children. Take hold of our nation, state, and community and awaken in every heart awe for the gift of life. Send your Spirit to strengthen us with wisdom and fortitude as we defend mothers and children in Florida from laws that disregard their health and safety.

Mary and Joseph trusted in you and welcomed Jesus into our broken world. God Almighty, we ask their intercession to protect the preborn and their mothers, and to guide all parents in raising their children. May they help us build a civilization of love by upholding the sacredness of life and accompanying pregnant women in need. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, Mother of the Family, pray for us!

St. Joseph, Protector of the Unborn, pray for us!

Oremos Para Derrotar la Enmienda del Aborto en Florida (Espanol)

Dios eterno: Tú das la vida y deseas un futuro para todos tus hijos. Apodérate de nuestra nación, estado y comunidad, y despierta en cada corazón la admiración por el regalo de la vida. Envía tu Espíritu para reforzarnos con sabiduría y fortaleza mientras defendemos a las madres y a los niños de Florida de las leyes que desprecian su salud y su seguridad.

María y José confiaron en ti y recibieron a Jesús en nuestro mundo quebrantado. Dios todopoderoso, pedimos que ellos intercedan para proteger a los niños por nacer y a sus madres, y dirigir a todos los padres y madres en la crianza de sus hijos. Que nos ayuden a construir la civilización del amor al defender el carácter sagrado de la vida y acompañar a las mujeres embarazadas que así lo necesiten. Te lo pedimos por Cristo, nuestro Señor. Amén.

Nuestra Señora, Madre de la Familia, ¡ruega por nosotros!

San José, Protector de los No Nacidos, ¡ruega por nosotros!


Courtesy of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dangerous ballot initiative seeks to erase Pro-Life protections

An extremely grave initiative is underway in Florida that seeks to erase pro-life protections by inserting language into the Florida Constitution banning regulation of abortion.

Abortion activists are working to gather petition signatures to place a pro-abortion constitutional amendment, titled Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion, on the November 2024 ballot.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, along with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB), warns that this amendment would allow abortion up until birth, including when the baby is capable of feeling pain, and would eliminate laws requiring parental consent – the proposed amendment calls only for notification – and safety protocols for women. Floridians should not sign the petition.

The FCCB released a statement on the proposed amendment and its petition, stating, “This amendment is deeply concerning because it will allow all abortions to be obtained until viability and includes a broad ‘health’ loophole, essentially allowing abortion on demand up to birth. The amendment would hinder the Florida legislature’s ability to protect women and children from abortion.”

In addition, the Florida Bishops assert that the amendment could also nullify current laws requiring parental consent before minors obtain abortions and a 24-hour waiting period prior to abortions, as well as the 15-week and 6-week abortion laws recently passed by the legislature.

The FCCB has filed a legal brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing the ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine unfettered abortion access into the state constitution.

The FCCB’s brief was one of four others filed on October 31, 2023, in addition to Attorney General Ashley Moody’s initial brief contesting the validity of the petition initiative for the “Amendment to Limit Government Inference with Abortion.” Other organizations that filed a brief were Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, National Center for Life and Liberty, and Florida Voters Against Extremism, a political committee formed specifically to organize and lead opposition to the initiative.

To help educate the parishioners of the Diocese of Venice on this dangerous amendment, a series of ads (in both English and Spanish) have been created listing the facts regarding the proposed amendment.

The ads, and more information about the proposed amendment, can be found at Decline to Sign – Diocese of Venice. The first fact is as follows, “This proposed amendment would legalize abortion up until birth, even allowing partial-birth abortion. Isn’t that going too far?”

As the Florida Bishops stated, “Declining to sign is not impeding the democratic process; it is taking a stand against what would be a terrible state policy. The FCCB is following developments in the initiative process closely and diligently preparing to help defeat it. Please continue your prayers for the protection of the unborn and spread the word to your spheres of influence.”

For more information about the “Decline to Sign” initiative, please visit Decline to Sign – Diocese of Venice or contact Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-484-9543 or


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40 Days for Life fall campaign concludes – 4 saves confirmed in Sarasota

All life is precious. For this reason, each fall and spring hundreds gather in front of abortion facilities in the Diocese of Venice praying that unborn children can be saved from the scourge that is abortion.

The 40 Days for Life fall campaign concluded on Nov. 6, 2022, with local efforts taking place in Sarasota and Fort Myers. The campaign began Sept. 28 but was delayed locally due to the arrival and impacts of Hurricane Ian.

Those impacts did not deter the prayer warriors who stood faithfully in front of the two Planned Parenthood abortion facilities as soon as it was safe, about a week after the storm at both sites. Sarasota 40 Days coordinator Rich Owens said people were in front of the downtown regional headquarters of Planned Parenthood the day the facility reopened after the hurricane. “We are here because that monstrosity is here.”

A peaceful, rather than confrontational, effort, the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign takes place in more than 1,000 cities across the United States and in 64 countries. The Diocese of Venice has participated since 2007, the year of the first national campaign. To date, 22,289 babies have been saved and 131 abortion centers have been closed.

Included in that number are four saves at the Sarasota location in just a few weeks. The saves, with the fourth was only recently confirmed, includes moms who come forward to thank the prayer warriors for their presence, which aided them in choosing life.

Many of the moms seeking help in the shadow of the abortion facility in Sarasota are directed to the neighboring Community Pregnancy Clinics (CPCI), a pro-life, free clinic that provides ultrasounds and extensive support for pregnant mothers. CPCI has medical offices in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota. In addition, CPCI has mobile clinics which visit rural communities, as well as college campuses, seeking to educate women and men about the pro-life options they have during an unexpected pregnancy.

During a closing vigil Jericho Walk on Nov. 5, Owens led a group of about 30 prayer warriors to rally and continue the fight to end abortion beyond the 40 days. The group circled the abortion facility, led by a banner which read “Viva Christo Rey – By Thy Power May Peace Come,” seven times. At the conclusion a horn blasted as everyone shouted in prayer, just as God told the Israelites in Joshua 6: 4-5, “On the seventh day march around the city seven times, and have the priests blow the horns. When they give a long blast on the ram’s horns and you hear the sound of the horn, all the people shall shout aloud. The wall of the city will collapse, and the people shall attack straight ahead.”

While the walls of the abortion facility did not collapse, the sounds of the prayer warriors resonated and will continue to do so long after the 40 Days fall campaign is concluded.

Owens said participation in the prayer vigil was less than in years past because many falsely believe the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was the end of the battle for life. In reality, the court decision was “a good first step,” but Florida law still allows abortions up to 15 weeks.

“Until that is changed to conception, this fight is not over,” Owens said.

Owens vowed that each day the abortion facility in downtown Sarasota is open, the faithful prayer warriors will be out front praying and standing witness. This vigil takes place on Tuesdays and often several days each week, depending on the hours Planned Parenthood announces.

The 40 Days for Life spring campaign begins Feb. 22, 2023, and concludes on Palm Sunday, April 2.

To learn more about how you can help protect life from conception until natural death, please visit

Diocesan Respect Life Volunteer of the Year – And the Award Goes To…

Pro-Life movement continues post-Roe

By Jeanne Berdeaux, Special to the Florida Catholic

Every year each Diocese in Florida presents a “Volunteer of the Year” award at the statewide Culture of Life Conference.  At this year’s event (Oct. 15, 2022), hosted by the Diocese of St. Petersburg at its Bethany Retreat Center, Rich Owens was announced as the Diocese of Venice award recipient.

A winter resident from New Jersey and seasonal member of St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota, Owens participated several times in the 40 Days for Life fall campaign in Sarasota. The Diocesan Respect Life Office has been coordinating the campaign since the first national fall campaign in 2007.

In the fall of 2018, Owens asked why there wasn’t a spring campaign in Sarasota.  It was explained that the office had been coordinating spring campaigns in Naples and could only handle one at a time. Besides workload issues, this was the policy of the national 40 Days for Life team. He then offered to lead a spring campaign in Sarasota in 2019. His request was enthusiastically accepted, and information was shared to help him launch this new endeavor. Owens poured lots of hours and effort into making the spring campaign a huge success and then asked if he could take over the management of the fall campaign. Of course, the response was a resounding “YES!”

Owens shared his personal story on a 40 Days for Life national video interview that his son was born prematurely at 28 weeks at 2.7 lb., soon dropping to only 1.13 lbs. He will never forget holding that tiny baby whose head fit in his hand and is now taller than his dad, a testimony to the right to life of even the smallest baby.

With each campaign, Owens worked harder to fill all 480 hours, 12 hours a day for 40 days, with at least two individuals praying on the sidewalk per hour. The spring 2022 campaign saw all but one hour filled.  The good news of the overturning of Roe v Wade created an unexpected problem and caused many people to think that it wasn’t necessary to go out to the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood to pray anymore, but that could not be farther from the truth!

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June 2022 did not end abortion; it only sent the decision back to the individual states to be decided by the legislatures. The new 15-week abortion ban passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis did not end abortion in Florida.  There were almost 5,000 second-trimester abortions in 2021 out of the total near 80,000 abortions in Florida in the last year.

This new 15-week abortion ban, although laudable, will only cut 6% of the abortions annually based on these figures. It will not affect the other 75,000 abortions. Because abortion is still legal in the first trimester when most abortions happen, Florida has the potential of becoming a “destination abortion state,” drawing women seeking abortions from other states where it is now illegal. The need to be on the sidewalk praying and witnessing to life is greater now than ever!

Some people were afraid to go back to the sidewalk after hearing about violence and vandalism in some parts of the country following the overturning of Roe v Wade. Fortunately, the fall 40 Days for Life campaign was as peaceful as it has ever been over the past 15 years.

As Owens said on the video, “We’re the last line of defense for these women going in; we’re saying, ‘We will fight for you!’”

And so, Owens continues to lead what is known as “40 Days for Life 365” in Sarasota, with the aim of having a peaceful, prayerful presence outside of Planned Parenthood during all of the hours they are open throughout the week. He’s already thinking of new ideas for his eighth campaign during Lent in the spring of 2023. Will you join him?

To learn more about the efforts of the Diocese protecting life from conception to natural death, please visit

Jeanne Berdeaux is the Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director and can be reached at 941-484-9543 or

Diocese redoubles efforts to help moms

When the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the Dobbs case was leaked last month, effectively overturning five decades of unlimited access to abortion, the Diocese of Venice vowed to redouble efforts to help moms who are facing unexpected pregnancies.

In a statement released after the Supreme Court ruling on June 24, 2022, Bishop Frank J. Dewane said: “Of course, legal protection must be accompanied by more care for mothers and their children. The Catholic Church, and the Diocese of Venice, stand ready to help mothers in need. Pregnant women are not alone.”

The statement added that “Parishes in the Diocese of Venice have redoubled their efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, offering them loving and compassionate care.”

Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux said the Diocese and all the faithful “need to continue to Pray! – Educate! – and Act! – to promote a greater respect for all human life.”

Berdeaux said that all parishioners will want to learn about “Walking with Moms in Need,” a new program which educates Parish staff and the faithful where to send a pregnant woman in need ( with all resources available in both English and Spanish. There are 22 Pregnancy Help Centers and nine residential maternity and after-birth homes within the Diocese, standing ready to help. Importantly, with an expected increase for demand, there are many financial and volunteering opportunities available to support these Pregnancy Help Centers.

For decades, the Diocese of Venice has supported these Pregnancy Help Centers and will continue to do so. Our Mother’s House of Catholic Charities in Venice is one of the programs in the Diocese that supports single mothers and their children, providing not just housing and material needs, but valuable counseling and education.

Berdeaux also stressed the need for the faithful to learn about the support after abortion outreach in the Diocese called Project Rachel. This program is a confidential service where any woman or man who is hurting from an abortion can seek help and find hope and healing. Again, this service is available in both English and Spanish.

“Many people still don’t understand Catholic teaching on abortion and the sanctity of human life,” Berdeaux said. “There are many resources available to help them learn the truth beginning with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and on our Diocesan website”

In the Diocesan statement, it points out that: “In God’s eyes, all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death; this is the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

As the Diocesan statement concludes, we are reminded: “Let us all continue to pray for the end to abortion, and the end to taking the lives of an entire category of human beings, the preborn.”

Where to volunteer, donate or refer a mom in need of services

List of pregnancy help centers in the Diocese of Venice:

List of residential facilities in the Diocese of Venice:

  • Bradenton, Sarasota and Englewood – Solve – 941-748-0094 –
  • Venice – Our Mother’s House of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. –941-485-6264 –
  • Fort Myers – Our Mother’s Home of Southwest Florida – 239-267-4663 – com
  • Cape Coral – Thrive –239-242-7238 –
  • Naples – Sunlight Home – 239-352-0251 – org
  • Naples – Providence House – 239-692-8779 – org

Material Needs: Venice Area Pregnancy Care Center – 941-485-1776 –

Volunteer to help moms and their babies

Our Mother’s House of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., is looking for volunteers to assist in helping moms and their babies in Venice. Our Mother’s House has provided transitional housing to homeless mothers and their children since 1987. The program’s mission is to offer single mothers and their preschool-age children a safe and secure environment to achieve increased self-sufficiency through education, vocational training, and personal growth. Volunteers are needed for assistance with childcare, maintenance, fundraising, and administration. To inquire about volunteering, please call 941-485-6264 or email Joyce Scott at

Help pregnant moms in need

If you would like to help pregnant women in need financially, consider giving to the Pennies for Babies Fund. Send checks (not cash) to Catholic Charities Pennies for Babies Fund, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. All donations go directly to rent, utilities and special needs of pregnant moms who choose to parent their child.

Adoption services available

Catholic Charities Adoption Services is a state-wide agency that provides counseling to birth parents, and provisions or resources to meet the needs of birth parents considering adoption planning. If you or a loved one would like to learn more, please call Joan Pierse at 941-355-4680.

Support after abortion – Project Rachel outreach

Most women who choose abortion eventually realize that they made the wrong choice and face a lifetime of regret. Even if they confess this sin to a priest, they often find it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive themselves. They will often confess the same sin over and over. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s program to help women and men come to terms with an abortion decision and find the hope and healing they need. Watch for more on post-abortion healing in the next edition of The Florida Catholic. For confidential help, call 941-412-5860 or email

Men’s Support after Abortion Program

Men, you are not alone.  While 1 out of 4 women will have an abortion by age 45, men are involved too. According to a national survey, 71% of men said they had an adverse effect after abortion. If you are a man affected by an abortion decision, you are invited to participate in a confidential and free healing series for men.  It will be led by Fr. Mark Harris, St John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, and Nathan Misirian, Support After Abortion.  To learn more about the program, when it will be scheduled or to register for the virtual sessions, call 941-412-5860 or email


Project Rachel: Hope and Healing for All

By Sylvia Jimenez, Special to the Florida Catholic

The women and men who have reached out to Project Rachel for help in their path to healing from past abortion range in age from early 20s to late 80s and even 90+ years old.  Some have been suffering silently with their “secret” for as many as 70 years.  For some, there is no one else in the world who knows about their abortion(s). The father of the aborted baby may not even know about the fact that the woman was pregnant – because some women never tell anyone.

There is hope, and healing, for those impacted by abortion. Project Rachel is a Diocesan outreach to women and men who suffer from the mental and spiritual trauma of abortion. This important outreach in the Diocese of Venice includes counseling, healing retreats and other direct and indirect support. All contact is strictly confidential.


It is wonderful to see a glorious transformation in every participant who experiences the Project Rachel healing retreat. It is like a Holy Week experience, where one goes through some of the trials or suffering of Calvary, but at the end of the retreat there is the new life and happiness of the Resurrection.  It is interesting that those who are the most reluctant and fearful in the beginning are the ones who are especially beaming at the end. Every participant feels great relief, freedom, and peace.

One woman felt deeply hurt each time she heard harsh, judgmental comments made by others at her church about those who have abortions. They would never have imagined that she had an abortion.  This caused her to alienate herself from God and Church for many years.  Then reading a testimony online, she concluded that if she expected to be forgiven for her sins, she too had to be forgiving, and she decided to “give the Church a chance” by attending a Project Rachel retreat.  She not only received the healing she desired, but she also came back to the Church and grew spiritually, including frequent reception of the Sacraments. This then led her to become active in the evangelization of other fallen-away Catholics.

Project Rachel invites you to view a few short and beautiful video testimonies of several women who have received healing from their abortions at


We are all sinners and undeserving of the grace God offers us. Yet, God is our loving Father, who waits with open arms, always inviting us to a renewed relationship with Himself (Luke 15:11). It is our Christian duty to spread the message that no matter how much one has sinned, with true repentance, we have access to God’s abundant love and mercy. This is the very foundation of Project Rachel.

Here is how you can help:

  1. Pray – Let others know you are praying for this intention. Ask that intercessions be included with those at your parish’s Masses. Also, prayer cards are available which may be requested free of charge.
  2. Inform yourself and share with others –These websites have ample information: and

Watch movies such as: Unplanned and The Matter of Life, a new documentary available soon via streaming or DVD.

  1. Help raise awareness (among your family, friends, community) about the need for healing after abortion and hope for healing through Project Rachel or other post abortion healing groups. Invite Project Rachel staff to speak to your parish group (CCW, Women’s Guild, Men’s Group).

For More Information:

Project Rachel invites you to view a few short and beautiful video testimonies of several women who have received healing from their abortions at

For more information about Project Rachel, as well as to read stories of hope and healing, visit (English) and (Español)

For testimonies of men having found healing after abortion, visit

If you know someone who has had an abortion and you would like to reach out to them so they can receive healing, contact Project Rachel. We can offer good recommendations for each situation. All contact is strictly confidential. (Se habla español. Todo contacto es confidencial) Call Sylvia Jimenez at 941-412-5860, or email