MILWAUKEE — Heather Weininger keeps a photo of her twin daughters on her desk in her Wisconsin Right to Life office. It’s a grainy black and white image preserved under glass as a paperweight, showing the two unborn babies.
Taken nearly three years ago, the ultrasound image serves as a constant reminder to her of the importance of the work she does as executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.
“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.
Six months later
Weininger, 37, a member of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, joined the WRTL staff in January as legislative and political action committee director. Six months later, she was named executive director of the organization, following Barbara Lyons, who retired July 1.
Weininger, in an 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.”
Prior to joining WRTL, Weininger was a senior field representative with American Majority, in Mequon, where she helped prepare potential candidates for public office. As a supporter of WRTL, she regularly received its e-newsletters, but admitted that she didn’t always open them.
One she did open, however, showed an opening for a legislative/PAC director to replace long-time director, Susan Armacost. It caught Weininger’s attention and she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.
After friends and her husband, Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay and administrator for Brown County, encouraged her, she applied. She soon found herself in a position where she feels she can speak out on moral issues compatible with her beliefs, but also balance work and family life — even though the office is about an hour and 45 minutes from her home.
She makes the commute to Milwaukee three times a week thanks to the help of her mother and mother-in-law, who care for two-year old Sophia and Emma. The Weiningers are expecting their third daughter this January.
“We are super blessed having family who can help,” she said, explaining her days in Milwaukee begin early: she’s on the road before the twins are awake and always home before dinner and bedtime.
Outgoing executive director, Lyons, sees Weininger as the right person for the role.
Knew right away
“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 was impressed with Weininger’s judgment. “Her leadership qualities are evident and she has a good personality for our organization as its public voice,” she added.
Weininger said her job complements her Catholic faith. She converted about two years ago. 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. The couple joined the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program together — since Chad had never been confirmed.
“It was way important for me to be (in church) together every Sunday, not just holidays,” she said of her decision.
“I would say there are several reasons why it took me so long to get to the point (where) I was ready to become Catholic,” she said, “but I overcame all of them.”
She said she also embraced the fact that the church doesn’t “change 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.”
The couple hope to become more involved at St. Francis Xavier, but are currently limited because of work schedules. Chad Weininger is completing his second term as a Wisconsin congressman and is not seeking reelection.
“When he first ran, we did not have children and it was a good time to run,” his wife said, adding, “now our family needs him at home.”
Political world know-how
Weininger’s no stranger to the political world. She began her education at the UW–Madison, planning to be a dentist. After a friend told her about an opening in Washington, D.C., for a senate page, she entered the political arena. She worked for her hometown congressman, Mark Green, during the time of the partial birth abortion debate in the state.
In addition to working for Green, 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 in Washington, and finance director for John Gard’s unsuccessful bids for the 8th Congressional District in 2006 and 2008.
While in Washington, Weininger met Chad — although their initial meeting in 1999 made a questionable start to their relationship. They met when Chad interviewed Heather for a district position with Green. He did not hire her, later telling her he pictured her in a bigger place than Antigo — like Washington — which Heather now concedes was probably right. They reconnected when both worked in Washington and married in October 2003.
Family life has changed her priorities.
“Once you have children, your perspective on life completely changes,” she said. “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 noted that she grew up in a world where the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was always in place.
“As a mom, when you feel the baby, see the baby,” she said, “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.”
A world for her daughters
She’d love to see a world where her daughters don’t know about Roe v. Wade.
“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.
As she looks ahead, Weininger expects to continue the work begun by 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. She believes that abortion and end-of-life issues both need a lot of time, effort and money, adding that WRTL’s membership is right there supporting them in the fight on both issues.
“It’s great we’re seeing our abortion numbers go down,” she said, “but we’re seeing state by state, they’re trying to come in and change end-of-life decisions that are being made.”