Heather Weininger keeps a photo of her twin daughters on her desk in the Wisconsin Right to Life office. It’s a grainy, black-and-white image on photo paper preserved under glass as a small paperweight showing two unborn babies in her womb.
Taken nearly three years ago, the ultrasound image of the girls, months before they were born, serves as a constant reminder to her of why her work as executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life is important, she said.
“Technology is a great tool because now we see our babies…. It is a different world where we can see a living being inside of us, can see the heartbeat and see them moving inside us and we see it at such an early stage. We can see this is a life and we need to save it,” she said.
Weininger, 37, a member of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay, joined the WRTL staff in January as legislative and political action committee director and six months later was named executive director of the organization, assuming the role of the retiring Barbara Lyons, July 1.
Describing herself as “always pro-life,” Weininger, in a late September interview with the Catholic Herald in her Milwaukee office, called the position a perfect fit for her.
“We get to save lives, we get to speak the truth to people. I could not imagine a better job for myself in all aspects of it as I get to save lives and work with others who save lives, and I get to use my talents at the same time,” she said.
Prior to joining the WRTL staff, Weininger said she was happily employed as a senior field representative with a Mequon-based firm, American Majority, in a role where she helped prepare potential candidates for public office.
As a supporter of WRTL, she regularly received the e-newsletters from the organization, but admitted she didn’t always open them.
However, in one she did open, she saw a note about an opening for a legislative/PAC director to replace long-time director Susan Armacost.
Even though she was not looking to leave her position, it caught her attention and she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind. After several friends and her husband, Chad, encouraged her to apply, she did so, and found herself in a position where she felt she could speak out on a moral issue compatible with her beliefs, and she could also balance work and family life – even though the office was about an hour and 45 minutes from her home.
She makes the commute to Milwaukee from Green Bay three times a week, thanks to the help of her mother and mother-in-law who care for 2-year old Sophia and Emma. The Weiningers are expecting their third daughter this January.
“We are super blessed having family who can help because I could not do what I do without their help,” she said, explaining her days in Milwaukee begin early – she’s on the road before the twins are awake and she is always back home before dinner and bedtime.
Technology is also a help, she said, noting she can work from home or even from her car – taking calls during her commute.
Just as Weininger described the role as a perfect fit for her, Lyons also sees Weininger as the right person for the role.
“The board did a nationwide search and eventually Heather was chosen, and I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Lyons. “I don’t think Heather knows this, but the minute she walked in the door, I said, ‘That’s our next executive director.’”
Lyons said she was impressed with Weininger’s judgment and the way she handles herself in public.
“Her leadership qualities are evident and she has a good personality for our organization as its public voice,” she added.
The job also complements her Catholic faith, Weininger said, explaining she converted to Catholicism about two years ago, deciding it was important to her to raise their family in the same faith.
Baptized Lutheran, but confirmed Methodist, Weininger said she grew up in a home with a Lutheran father and Methodist mother. She went to the Methodist church for much of her life, but because she knew Chad, who was raised Catholic, was committed to his faith, she chose to convert.
The couple joined the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program together – since Chad had never been confirmed – and formally joined the church.
“It was way more important for me to be there together every Sunday, not just holidays,” she said of her decision, explaining that even though it was a gradual move, it was one she was comfortable doing.
“I would say there are several reasons why it took me so long to get to the point I was ready to become Catholic, but I overcame all of them and I embraced the fact that the Catholic Church is not one who changes because society thinks it’s a good idea to change our beliefs. It is a solid foundation that has been here for so long and will continue to be here. It’s really the thing that attracted me to decide this is where I belong,” she said.
Children come first
The couple hope to become more involved in parish life at St. Francis, but are currently limited because of busy work schedules.
“As the kids get older, maybe we’ll be able to do a bit more,” she said.
Chad Weininger is completing his second term as a Republican representative for Wisconsin’s 4th Assembly District, but is not seeking reelection, explained his wife. He also serves as administrator for Brown County.
“When he first ran, we did not have children and it was a good time to run,” she said, adding, “now our family needs him at home.”
Familiar with political world
In addition to being the wife of a politician, Weininger’s no stranger to the political world. She began her education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison planning to be a dentist, but after a friend told her about an opening in Washington, D.C., as a senate page, she entered the political arena.
She worked for U.S. Rep. Mark Green as a staff assistant during the time the partial birth abortion debate was raging in the state, giving her an introduction to pro-life issues.
In addition to working for Green in various roles, she served as campaign manager for Judge Kendall Kelley’s successful run for Brown County Circuit Court Judge, events director for Bush-Cheney 2004, Milwaukee; operations site manager for the 55th presidential inaugural committee, Washington, D.C., and finance director for John Gard’s unsuccessful bids for the 8th Congressional District seat in 2006 and 2008.
While in Washington, D.C., Weininger met Chad – although their initial meeting in June 1999 got the relationship off to a questionable start. They met at a job interview – where Chad was interviewing Heather for a district position with Green. He did not hire her, later telling her she did not seem right for a job in Antigo; rather, he pictured her in a bigger place, like Washington, D.C., which his wife now concedes was probably right.
They reconnected some time later when both were working in Washington, D.C., and married in October 2003.
Children and family life have changed her priorities, admitted Weininger.
“Once you have children, your perspective on life completely changes. I definitely say I was a selfish person back in my younger days, even when it was just Chad and me, but now everything revolves around them,” she said. “As a mom, when you feel the baby, see the baby — how anyone could take the life of a child knowingly makes me cry and absolutely changes my perspective even more and makes me want to fight harder.
“I’ve grown up in a world where Roe vs. Wade has always been in place. I would love to see a world where my kids don’t see that, but I will work every single day for them to know that abortion is not the answer and ending life when someone is not naturally dying is not the answer either,” she said.
Concern about end-of-life issues
As she looks ahead to her work with WRTL, Weininger expects the organization to continue the work begun by the woman she calls her mentor, Lyons.
“Barbara’s left us with such a great foundation,” she said, explaining she plans to continue speaking out for the unborn, as well as for those on the end-of-life spectrum. “As we continue forward, we have an aging population and not only do we need to fight for them, but we also have the aging population of our membership so we’ve done a wonderful job of working with the youth and we need to continue that…. Outside of the abortion issue, we’re seeing a really tough fight on end-of-life issues,” she said, predicting the organization will spend more time, effort and money advocating for end-of-life issues. “It’s great we’re seeing our abortion numbers go down, but we’re seeing, state by state, they’re trying to come in and change end-of-life decisions that are being made.”
“Our mission is from the moment of conception to natural death,” she said, adding that membership is right there supporting them in their abortion fight as well as with end-of-life issues.