Amber Tamblyn on the Texas Abortion Law: ‘Disheartening and Terrifying and Upsetting’

But she's also guardedly optimistic.

by Donna Freydkin
Photo Credit: Zack Whedon

Amber Tamblyn’s Wikipedia profile identifies her as an actor, director, and writer, and, of course, a feminist.

“I don’t even control that. If that that’s how the world sees me, I’ll take it,” she says.

Her acting credits range from Joan of Arcadia to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to the FX series Y: The Last Man, streaming on September 13. Work is what she does. But an activist is who she is. And not the eye roll-inducing, performative, sanctimonious kind. She’s a thoughtful writer, a passionate speaker about sexual harassment and racism, and a mom deeply worried about the future, especially in the wake of Texas’ abortion law. It bans abortions after six weeks, and turns regular citizens into vigilantes who report on anyone who enables an abortion to take place.

“I had been bracing myself for this moment for a little bit of time because I had been following closely all the ways in which the pro-life movement and conservatives and Republicans have been angling for this for the last 30 years and playing this very smart, long game,” she says.

But here’s why she’s deeply worried, sure, but also guardedly optimistic.

When did you first realize: This is really happening?

I think I had started to get a little worried when a lot of lawyer friends were talking about it, especially in the sense of what we’re worrying aboutI had sort of braced myself, but it was interesting to watch because I felt like all of a sudden, everyone I knew was like, ‘Whoa, hang on. Holy shit, this just happened.’ And unhappy people are attention.

I think it’s really a disheartening and terrifying and upsetting. I think what’s so upsetting about it is how punitive it is. By the way, nobody knows they’re pregnant at six weeks. Nobody.

The only people that know are the people doing in vitro and they’re not going to be having abortions.

That’s exactly right. It’s ludicrous. It’s very frustrating. And I think the punitive part of it — this bounty on our heads is one of the most angry and frustrating parts of it. And the complete and utter hypocrisy of the right, who are the loudest voices about not wearing masks and not getting vaccinated. It’s my body, my choice about masks and vaccines, but your body will still be my choice.

It’s pretty demoralizing. It’s hard to stay upbeat.

I think this is just a reminder that where we come from, we do not have the luxury of resting on our laurels. We just don’t have the luxury of waiting. And you have to remember that this is the country that we were born into, that we all love for very different reasons. And the fact that they spent 30 years trying to overturn this says a lot about their stamina. What I hope this does is really lights up not just a temporary fire, but just lights a much larger flame under people to understand that nothing is safe. We can’t take anything for granted, including voting. It’s about local elections and local races. They’re representing their districts. We can’t change them. What we can change is who sits in the seat of power.

Did becoming a mom make you more or less driven?

I don’t think it made me more driven because I’ve just been consistently angry for years. I think it’s just a reminder, even to me, that you can’t pause even for a minute. If we don’t keep working towards the steps we just talked about, then it’s just going to keep getting worse. So I think we just have to keep fighting. We have to vote people out. We have to know more about local elections. I scream from my top of my lungs about Fair Fight. And if you’re sick of donating, if you’re sick about making phone calls or hearing about it, then take some Pepto and keep going, because we don’t have a choice. This is for our kids. And not even just our kids, but for other people’s kids who don’t live in New York or California.

Do you have any insights on how to raise kids that are engaged and informed without making them scared about the state of the world?

It’s a really good question. My daughter is four and a half — we had the massive protests here in, in New York City when George Floyd was murdered last summer. I kind of delicately explained to her what was going on. I also took her out to protest out here She said, ‘What does the sign mean?’ And I explained to her what the sign means. And we sort of talked in loose terms — a little bit of explaining the differences between people and how some people feel about other people and treat other people. It was also a big conversation about death. What does that mean when you die? So we did try to talk about that.

I don’t think that there is an early enough time that we can start talking about racism in this country and sexism in this country. I think it’s really important to engage them young so that they know, because they’re the ones that are going to have to take this on. My daughter, who’s white, is going to be going to school with other Black kids and brown kids and trans kids. And it’s going to be on her as the one with the privilege in the room when she gets older to know how to fight.

Are there certain words you use or don’t use when talking to your daughter?

I would say one of the simplest ways is that I talk to her like a normal person. I don’t in things like time timeouts. I let her feel what she needs to feel. I try to give her a psycho-emotional autonomy and make sure that she knows that she’s in control of her own emotions and the way she feels — that what she feels and who she is, is valid through that. I’m not going to send you in a corner to cry. I’m not going to tell you to stop crying or feeling the way you need to feel. I always respect her and I respect her young feelings and I respect her young thoughts.

We took a bath together the other night and she looked at my breasts and she said, ‘Mommy’s boobies fell down.’ And I said, ‘That’s hilarious and rude.’And I didn’t say that part, but we’re close. She’s very funny and sweet and, and I make sure she knows that she’s valued in those ways.

While we’re talking about abortion and voting, let’s also plug your wonderful new show.

It’s based on a very acclaimed beloved graphic novel called Y: The Last Man, that was written 20 years ago, but it’s just a really beloved piece of work. It’s one of my husband’s favorite comic books. It’s about a world where there is a pandemic and all of a sudden, all mammals with a Y chromosome dropped dead at the same time, a majority of which are all cisgender men. So basically all cis men are dead. Every single one, except for this one. It shows the difficult, complex relationships between women.