Planned Parenthood is a favorite target of some conservatives, perhaps because they sometimes seem to regard it as an abortion factory. As such, it was hardly surprising when Senator Jon Kyl claimed that abortion is “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.”
Kyl’s claim is (as Colbert, Stewart and others have pointed out) far from the truth. The famous pie chart shows that the figure is 3%, although what Planned Parenthood reports is actually a bit over 10%. In any case, it is clearly not 90%.
If Kyl had simply made this error and left it at that, then the matter would probably have quietly faded away. However, the attempt made at damage control was rather odd (but comedy gold for Stephen Colbert). His office released an official statement asserting that Kyl’s claim was “not intended to be a factual statement.” Colbert has, of course, been dropping some Twitter delivered mockery bombs all over Kyl and has also inspired his Nation to join in. Kyl certainly seems to have brought this on himself, first with his wildly incorrect statistical claim and then by that rather bizarre reply.
Given that Kyl was launching an attack on Planned Parenthood and grounding his attack on the claim that the vast majority of what it does is abortion, then he certainly seemed obligated to make factual statements. After all, it hardly seems right to simply make up non-factual claims in such a context.
Then again, maybe Kyl is more versed in philosophy than the media is giving him credit for. In philosophy we distinguish between factual statements (matters of fact) and non-factual statements (statements that are not objectively true or false). Relativists and subjectivists about truth hold that truth is not objective. So, perhaps Kyl is a relativist or subjectivist. If so, what appeared to be a factual statement was, to Kyl, actually not. If so, his reply makes perfect sense.
Of course, there is a bit more to the reply from Kyl’s office. The full reply is that it was “not intended to be a factual statement but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.”
This seems perfectly reasonable. After all, the general principle seems to be that it is reasonable to infer from some to 90%. For example, if some Republicans have been caught doing things in airport bathrooms, then it is reasonable to illustrate this by saying that 90% of Republicans are secretly gay. That’s just good logic.