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.

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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Venice group enjoys Capitol visit

Buoyed by an influx of young people, a group representing the Diocese of Venice gained new insight and worked together to make their voices heard during the 2022 Catholic Days at the Capitol.

Following a 2021 hiatus, the Catholic Days at the Capitol was Feb. 1-2, 2022, wherein Catholics from across the state gather in Tallahassee to put their faith into action. Some 38 from the Diocese of Venice were among some 200 representing each Arch/diocese in the state. Both Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers sent delegations to the Catholic Days gathering.

Organized by Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and within the Diocese by Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux, the Venice group journeyed by bus and participated in each major event.

Activities included a legislative briefing from the Bishops Conference on four key bills that are of significance during the current legislative session and direct visits to the State House and Senate offices of local lawmakers to present the Church’s stance on key legislation. This year, many were able to meet legislators, which is not always possible as they are often unavailable due to their busy schedule during the legislative session.

The high school groups were allowed a behind-the-scenes tour of both the House and Senate Chambers. The Cardinal Mooney students also had the opportunity to meet two Mooney Alumni, State Senator Joe Gruters and State Rep. James Buchanan, a special chance they enjoyed immensely.

Another unique experience of some in the Venice group included an opportunity to sit in on a committee hearing on a bill that would protect women and limit the harm of abortion in Florida. The critical bill would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks gestation, shrinking the window of time in which an abortion is able to be legally obtained.

In addition, there was also a shared breakfast with Florida’s Bishops and legislators, as well as the 47th Annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit which was concelebrated by the Florida Bishops.

One Venice participant described that Catholic Days at the Capitol as a learning experience about being engaged as a Catholic in the happenings of Florida by learning about the laws and trying to speak to the legislators who vote on these important issues.

Another explained how it was great to see the young people take part and have the opportunity to be amongst like-minded Catholics sharing their faith in a public forum.